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Schools: Cost of security upgrades starts at $649,000

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It will cost $649,000 to upgrade security at the entrances to Georgetown County’s 19 public schools. And the cost would top $1 million if the school district elects to replace doors, reinforce windows and install more cameras and fences, according to estimates presented to the school board this week.

The board received the security estimates shortly after learning that the district could face the loss of $845,000 in funds for programs for students with disabilities. While the construction funds and special education funds come from different sources, the figures highlight the frustration of school officials who are trying to find funds for additional programs but are spending more and more money on security.

The district began a review of school security following the shooting deaths of 20 students and six staff at an elementary school in Connecticut in December. The district paid for county deputies and Georgetown city police officers to provide security at the district’s nine elementary schools. It already had resource officers at the eight middle and high schools. The district also added security at after-school events.

District staff along with staff from SGA Architecture started looking for ways to make it harder for an intruder to force his way into the schools. “There are no true standards,” said Mike Rolison, an architect with SGA. He researched a variety of measures. In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., companies that provide those materials “are going flat out,” he said.

SGA’s proposal includes installing film over existing glass at the entrances to make them bulletproof. Partitions will be installed in school lobbies to direct visitors to a reception area. That was done at Waccamaw High as part of a renovation last year, but where visitors now find an open counter, Rolison proposes installing a bulletproof glass “bandit barrier.” Some schools, including Waccamaw Middle, will have “transaction windows” like those used in some ticket counters and banks.

“We’re trying to stop people going into schools and directly down corridors,” Rolison said.

The proposal also includes installing alarms at the front desk in each school.

“I think it’s just heartbreaking,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said. “We’re using education dollars to protect our kids.”

Board Member Arthur Lance called it a “Fort Knox mentality” and said “I just get a pain in my heart.”

Superintendent Randy Dozier said many of the safety ideas were proposed by school staff. “The cost is not astronomical. To do nothing is not acceptable,” he said. “The goal is to slow somebody up. You’re not going to keep them out.”

The security measures would take 12 to 14 months to complete, and Dozier suggested the district start by installing security film on the windows, estimated to cost $103,000.

“I don’t want to make it look like a prison, but if it would save one life I would do that,” Dozier said.

The school district has created a safety task force with law enforcement, fire and emergency management officials. Bill Compton, the district’s facilities director, called it “the new normal.” The goal is to make sure emergency services have the information they need about the schools and can get access, he said.

Using Waccamaw Elementary as an example, Crompton said security concerns change the way people view school facilities. Landscaping that has grown up since the school opened in 1976 has been cut back from the building. “It’s easy to hide between a bush and a building,” he said.

Trees have grown up to block the view of security cameras and provide a way for someone to climb onto the school roof. Gardens planted by students have grown as well and now they provide hiding places for potential intruders, Crompton said.

And rain barrels, installed to promote an awareness of stormwater, are a nice idea, Crompton said, but who checks to see what’s inside?

School Board Member Richard Kerr said he liked the idea of starting with limited improvements to see how the public responds.

He also asked for a summary of the district’s current security costs. The draft budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 shows $232,500 to continue paying for the security staff that was added in January.

“It’s important for people to know how much we spend on security,” Kerr said. “I still haven’t given up on getting some of that from the state.”

Dozier said state funds seem unlikely, but there may be some federal grants available.

The district has a $76.9 million operating budget proposed for the coming year. That’s up by $2.2 million from the current year. But with declining enrollment, the district will lose 3.5 teaching positions.

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