Recovery

School Security Changes Toe Line Between Comfort, Safety

As solutions are found and security concerns addressed new ones crop up.

by Eryn Dion, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla / May 3, 2018

(TNS) - As Bay District, Fla., Schools officials ramp up secure entrance and campus hardening projects, both the security and facilities departments are faced with a dilemma — where to draw the line between public and private when it comes to school campuses.

"All our schools were built with a neighborhood atmosphere in mind," said Lee Walters, the district's director of facilities. "How do we not totally lose that?"

For Walters and District Safety and Security Chief Mike Jones, the massive $4 million project to outfit every school with a secure entrance and shore up gates, perimeters and cameras is a "balancing act" between making parents feel comfortable enough to come to the school for events, but also having everyone feel safe. At a meeting Wednesday morning the two, along with several others, discussed the district's priorities moving forward, as well as some of the challenges.

Many Bay District schools are built in ways that make securing the campus especially tricky. Arnold High School, for example, was built to be open and inviting to the public, with access to the gymnasium and fine arts centers separate from the main office. Walters said he is working with architects to try to preserve that inviting nature while also funneling visitors, or potential threats, toward the main office where they can be dealt with.

Jinks Middle School also has a wide open courtyard that faces 11th Street. For Walters, the question isn't whether to put fencing around the perimeter, but where the fencing should start.

"We have got to get fencing all around the front of that school," he said. "We can't have folks cutting across the front of our campus anymore."

Currently there are 16 schools without a secure front entrance, where visitors enter into a vestibule and are stopped from entering further by doors with electronic locks and front desk employees behind shatterproof glass. With the School Board wanting to have those projects completed within a year, or as fast as possible, Walters said he has three architects working on designing the entrances. The designs for Jinks and Everitt middle schools, Tyndall Elementary School and Rutherford High School are just about ready.

But as solutions are found and security concerns addressed, Walters and Jones found new ones cropping up. For example, some of the secure entrances the district built a few years ago need to be shored up against new threats, and Walters brought up the possibility of needing future secure entrances at other access points, such as the gymnasium or the cafeteria.

With some elementary school playgrounds being opened up for public parks comes the need for cameras that can monitor the playgrounds, Jones said. And with new Bay District Police officers stationed at every elementary school comes the need for them to have an office near the front of the school. And with upgraded camera systems comes a need for a new building for the security office, and a portal for agencies like SWAT to possibly be able to access the camera feeds in an emergency.

"It keeps going," Walters said. "It's not just one and done. It's continue, continue, continue."

Jones, Walters and the facilities team will meet next week to start mapping out where to place new Stanley Best locks with key codes on exterior doors, with the idea that only law enforcement and a few others would have the key code and be able to get into the school in an emergency situation. The secure entrances will move forward as designs are completed and likely extend through the summer and into the school year, with front offices relocating to another building as needed.

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©2018 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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