Schools undergo security upgrades

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Powell schools are getting new security upgrades in an effort to keep kids safe.

Schools will be equipped with cameras, secure entrances and electronic sign-in systems for visitors.

“The district takes the security of students seriously,” said Todd Wilder, coordinator of support services for the school district.

If schools are in a heightened security state — due to an angry family member or another potential threat — school leaders can monitor cameras to see which door they’re coming to, Wilder said.

Initially, “we’re focusing on having cameras that will show whoever is approaching our entrance doors,” he said. “That’s our high priority.”

All school buildings had cameras installed, except the new Powell Middle School, which was already equipped with a system.

“It has a ton of cameras,” Wilder said of the middle school.

The district’s next newest building, Westside Elementary School, also had some cameras. Though Southside Elementary School and Powell High School aren’t much older, the state wasn’t funding security cameras for new schools when they were built, Wilder said.

“It’s also good for forensic evidence if someone tries to break in,” Wilder said.

In the past, the district has dealt with break-ins at Parkside Elementary School and the old high school.

Now, every Powell school and the administration building will have security cameras.

Over the summer, hardware and cables were completed for all cameras in the Park County School District No. 1’s plan, and the first cameras were installed at entrances. 

“Expect to be on camera when you approach the schools,” Wilder said.

As funding allows, more cameras will be added to monitor playgrounds and other areas throughout school buildings.

The cost for the cameras, equipment and installation at six school buildings is rougly $145,000. 

To pay for all of the school security upgrades — a combined total of roughly $537,665 — the school district is using its major maintenance money as well as funding the state designated for security projects.

Funding for future major maintenance projects is uncertain as the state of Wyoming deals with budget shortfalls following the downturn in the energy industry.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Legislature,” Wilder said. “With the way funding is now, I don’t have high hopes that we’ll get more security funding, so we’ll probably look at our major maintenance budget and see what we can do.”

Visitor sign-in system

In coming weeks, schools will adopt new electronic sign-in systems for visitors.

Using a touch screen, guests will enter their name, reason for visiting and then have their picture taken. Visitors will get a badge that has their photo on it, and be buzzed in to enter the school. “You have information about why they’re in the building, and you can match up their picture ID,” Wilder said. “It’s a little more secure.”

If there’s a reason why someone shouldn’t be at the school — such as a family member with a restraining order — that data can be entered into the system. A message is then sent to an administrator or school resource officer.

Every school will have the new sign-in systems, except Clark Elementary School and the Support Services Building, because they don’t have as many visitors to monitor. “They do know their community really well, and the numbers are small,” Wilder said.

He added that, “the system’s not so expensive that if something changed in the community and we thought we needed that extra security, it wouldn’t take long to put another system in.”

On Aug. 8, the school board approved a bid for $23,970 to the Florida-based company School CheckIn for systems in six Powell school buildings. The company will send staff from Florida to install the systems and train school employees. 

The new sign-in systems will likely be up and running by early October, Wilder said.

Sixteen districts around the state have already adopted similar systems, he said.

He encouraged folks in the community not to be afraid of using the new electronic sign-in.

Schools can customize the settings for how they want to screen visitors; they can also use the electronic sign-in to build a database of late students’ tardies.

“It’s a pretty handy system,” Wilder said.

Secure entrances

Powell school buildings also will have vestibules — a small room visitors must enter before being allowed into the main building.

“These secure vestibules are kind of a necessity nowadays,” Wilder said. “But it’s there to keep your kids safe.”

The entrance at Parkside — Powell’s oldest school — required the most extensive work, Wilder said.

A new glass wall and door system is being finished on the interior set of doors at Parkside, and a window allows office staff to interact with people who enter the vestibule. The office underwent multiple improvements as part of the project.

“As remodels go, you start ripping that out and then you find something else and rip that out,” Wilder said. “In the end, we completely redid that office.”

Shoshone Learning Center and Powell High School also underwent work for new vestibules.

Powell High School’s vestibule is located in the first set of doors, where all visitors must enter. The other doors into PHS remain locked during school hours.

“Your experience in coming to the schools shouldn’t be much different, other than you have another door to swing open for you,” Wilder said.

Schools also received other improvements, including new buttons that will put the buildings into lockdown when pressed.

Doors in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also were installed at several school buildings.

Building the new secure vestibules and other improvements to school entrances at seven buildings cost $142,537.

Mass notification system

Public announcements are now possible at Parkside Elementary School, thanks to a new system. Before, the school didn’t have speakers in the classrooms or call buttons, Wilder said.

“So they got a complete new system,” he said.

While PA systems have everyday uses — such as bells and announcements — they also can be used for mass notification in case of an emergency.

The Shoshone Learning Center had an old PA system, and crews piggybacked on it and installed new equipment.

“I thought it was important for them to have one, because they have people kind of scattered throughout the building; if something happened, they needed to be able to let people in those offices know what was going on,” Wilder said.

It cost $217,723 for the new PA systems at Parkside and the Shoshone Learning Center, plus improvements to Southside’s system. Classrooms have speakers mounted in the ceilings, so with the press of a button, a teacher can speak and the front office will hear them, Wilder said. He said it also enables people in the admin area to listen in on a classroom, if needed.

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