PHOENIX — Until now, lockdowns at Phoenix and Talent elementary schools required teachers to step outside the classroom, turn the lock with a key, then step back inside and close the door. Beginning this fall, the rooms will be lockable with the push of a button from the inside.
Enhanced security features at the two schools are one of the first fruits from a $68 million bond measure passed by Phoenix-Talent School District voters in November 2017.
“With this bond we are looking at a 20- to 30-year security upgrade,” said Superintendent Brent Barry. “We had done a whole security assessment.”
Upgrades at the two elementary schools also include new camera, alarm and intercom systems, enclosing previously open classrooms, and single entryways for the campuses that will have enhanced visual monitoring.
Wrought-iron fencing at the entrance to the two schools will direct students, parents and visitors to the single entry point, where vestibules that feature two sets of doors will be visible to both a receptionist and the office manager from rearranged work areas with clear sight lines to the entry and adjacent window at the sides. In addition, principals’ offices at both schools have been moved adjacent to the entrance with windows that overlook the main parking lots.
“There’s one clear entrance for everything,” said Barry.
Six-foot-tall fences and gates have been installed to ensure that the main entrances are used. Fencing has one-inch-square openings that will discourage attempts to climb. Wrought-iron work probably will be finished at the two campuses during the first week of school, which begins Sept. 4.
Entrances at the two schools lead into what are called “the round buildings,” which featured classrooms that were open to large central areas that could house multiple activities. Walls now have been erected to separate the classrooms from the center.
“It makes all the classrooms a lot more contained. It will be a better working environment, a lot more quiet,” said Phoenix Principal Jeff Carpenter.
The new systems also will speed up processes during emergencies, said Carpenter. Previously during lockdowns, teachers needed to notify him via email that their classrooms were secure. Now pushing the lock button will let Carpenter know that’s been accomplished.
In his 10 years as principal, he’s never done a lockdown except for drills.
“We’ve nearly doubled the numbers of cameras,” said Carpenter. The new digital instruments produce much clearer images and can be set to record only human motion. Time spent reviewing videos to look for incidents will be significantly reduced with the search features they contain, says Carpenter.
New fencing and other measures will allow the central campus areas to be closed off to the public from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., although larger outdoor areas will remain accessible. In the past, individuals easily could walk among buildings at both sites at times when school staff weren’t around. A security consultant found that 100 people were on campus at Phoenix Elementary between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when he conducted a survey one night.
Security at Orchard Hill Elementary School will be updated when a new cafeteria approved as part of the bond measure is constructed. A new camera system has been installed at Talent Middle School. Intercom upgrades were done at the middle school and Phoenix High School, which will get a $48 million rebuild beginning in 2019 as part of the bond measure.
Besides the security measures, new heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have been installed at the two elementary schools. The new HVACs will operate at 97 percent efficiency ratings compared to the old ones at 80 percent, said Jon McCalip, district facilities and special projects director.
About $6 million was spent this summer for HVAC updates, security measures at schools and seismic upgrades to the two round buildings, said McCalip.
Contractors included Amersco and Metal Masters for HVAC work, Smeed Communications for the intercom systems, Quality Fence for wrought iron and fencing, Ironclad Security for the camera and lock systems, and Amersco and S & B James for remodel of front entrances and adjacent office space.
“There’s a lot of work that has been done in a short two-and-one-half months,” said Barry.
Reach Ashland freelancer Tony Boom at email@example.com.