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Groton weighs school security upgrade

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published January 13. 2013 4:00AM   Updated January 13. 2013 1:51PM
Cameras, better locks, buzzer plan are in the works

Groton - Cameras accessible online by police, panic buttons and security patrols are just some of the ideas being considered as Groton looks to enhance security at its 10 schools.

William Robarge, the director of facilities and grounds for the school system, said some improvements have already begun since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the replacement of locking systems in some classrooms to allow teachers to secure doors from inside the classroom.

Robarge made a presentation Wednesday to the Representative Town Meeting, saying layers of protection, such as a panic button that automatically dials 9-1-1, can provide valuable time for response during an emergency.

Interim Superintendent John Ramos had called for a review of school security in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook. Robarge said a tour of school facilities with police helped to identify areas that needed improvement. Robarge said Stonington High School, because it is so new, was also used as a model.

"We're gaining and we're learning lessons from others we reach out to in our neighboring communities and police departments. I think we're in a really good position right now."

Robarge said badge readers are being installed to allow students to have keyless entry to the school after recess or when they leave a portable classroom to enter the main school to use the bathroom.

The school system also intends to install camera systems that will allow front office staff to view and talk with visitors outside. Other cameras will eventually watch over playgrounds and areas where students leave and enter the school.

While all exterior doors are presently locked to visitors, Robarge said the newer schools offer a buffer area after being buzzed in. The older schools do not. Perhaps, Robarge said, schools can be modified to add an extra barrier.

The school system will use "roughly $300,000" left over for security in last year's budget while gathering costs for future improvements. The school district is contracting with A&R Communications for some of the projects. Staff is expected to complete some of the work, such as wiring.

RTM member Michael Collins, during the meeting Wednesday, wondered "with all these cameras and videos and things, who's going to be watching those."

Robarge said they would not be actively monitored but the important thing is preventing someone from getting into the school.

Assistant Superintendent Sean McKenna said the school staff drills and has emergency protocol in place should a danger come from inside the school.

At Wednesday's meeting, RTM member Genevieve Cerf called for a ban on certain types of weapons, saying "we're not going to proceed to make 100,000 (nationwide) public schools into armed fortresses."

g.smith@theday.com

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