Published March 28. 2013 2:30PM Updated March 28. 2013 11:44PM
Norwich — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was greeted at Kelly Middle School Thursday by several city school officials who quickly ushered him back into the cool drizzle to make a point.
Superintendent Abby Dolliver showed the senator how he would approach the locked doors as an outsider. Blumenthal hit the buzzer and gave his name when school secretary Sue Benoit answered the call inside the office.
“Would you like to come in?” Benoit asked.
“I hope so,” Blumenthal responded.
But he had to negotiate through a second set of locked doors just inside the main entrance. Students and staff can enter the main hallway, but visitors are directed to a separate door and buzzed into the office.
In the office, Benoit and School Resource Officer Anthony Gomes showed Blumenthal the video monitoring system that can display or zoom in on images from any of the 53 cameras, including nine outdoor cameras. The cameras hold data for 30 days.
“I haven’t found a school that has that number of outside cameras,” Blumenthal said.
Kelly was the fourth school Blumenthal has visited thus far in a tour of the state in advance of the Senate’s consideration of his “Secure Our Schools” proposal, which would provide at least $40 million to school districts for improvements such as locks, cameras, monitors and lighting.
Kelly Middle School underwent a $40 million renovation and new construction project that opened a year ago in January. Blumenthal said he was impressed by the school’s security features and said they could be models for his security enhancement program.
Interior double doors in the Kelly hallways at various locations also are equipped with magnetic locks, allowing school officials to close off sections of the school. That system is used routinely during evening recreational programs that use the school gymnasium near the front of the building, Dolliver said.
Norwich Police Lt. Christopher Ferace, the Norwich police school liaison officer, said the locking door system is designed to “slow” any forced entry by an intruder.
“The idea is to slow them down,” Ferace said. “Every single second counts.”
Kelly students had no school Thursday, but teachers from throughout the district used the building for a professional development training day. Blumenthal and school officials interrupted one program in the school community room, where about 35 special education teachers were seated.
Teacher Susan Bernstein asked the senator for his opinion on whether schools should hire armed guards. The Enfield school board voted 5-4 Wednesday to hire security guards for all 11 schools at a cost of more than $600,000 per year.
“Is that the message we want to send to our families?” Bernstein asked.
Blumenthal said he believes that decision should be left to individual school districts. He said he personally prefers school resource police officers, who also provide mentoring and counseling services and direct interaction with students. Norwich restored two resource officers to the middle schools in this year’s budget after they were removed in budget cuts two years earlier. Another six police D.A.R.E. officers work regularly with elementary schools.
“My opinion is districts need to make those decisions individually,” Blumenthal said. “For some districts, armed guards might be very valuable.”