Starting this fall, students and parents approaching any school building within the Athens City Schools district will have to follow a new protocol now that the district has installed a security system in all of the schools.
Historically, the doors to school buildings have remained unlocked with signs directing visitors to sign-in at the main office. However, ever since the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., doors have been locked at most of the school buildings.
The practice was intended to increase security, but it also created an inconvenience in some buildings where the main office isn’t near the door, said Steve Gunderson, the district’s director of technology. At West Elementary, for example, visitors had to call the office once they arrived and request someone open the door for them.
Now, visitors will be able to notify the main office of their arrival by hitting a buzzer. With new video cameras installed at the main entrances, school officials in the office will be able to see and communicate with a person who is requesting entry and remotely unlock the doors.
The goal of the project, said Supt. Carl Martin, is to close off the school building “as best we can.” The plan is to direct all visitors to one or two main entrances and keep all other doors locked during school hours. Teachers — through the use of an electronic key card — will still have the ability to unlock doors, Gunderson said.
Depending on the layout of the building, the school will have one or two main entrances. The middle school, for example, will have one main entrance at the rear near the employee parking and one in the front of the building.
Another unique quality of the middle school is the detached gym. Those doors will be on a timed sequence. Doors will automatically unlock during class changes. At a certain time, they will automatically lock. If a student is running late, he or she would have to enter the school from one of the main entrances.
Gunderson said they’ve selected a plan that meets the immediate needs of the district while leaving room for growth in the future. A possible second phase of the project would involve the installation of electronic contacts on all building doors. These contacts would allow the school to monitor on a computer system which doors are open or closed.
The installation of the security system was completed over the summer. The district worked with Johnson Controls out of Milwaukee, Wis. The cost of the project will not exceed $182,486, although Martin said the final bill will likely be much less.