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Carroll schools improving security

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Visitors will have to be "buzzed" in and staff will carry cards to access school doors.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Even as Carroll educators prepare for some much-needed improvements at the high school, another contractor will secure the doors of each facility in the county.
Officials have asked Ken-Nect Communications to install the security measures at the high school first, so that work won’t interfere with the update to the heating and air conditioning system; connecting the facility to natural gas service; and creating a science, technology, engineering and math lab, according to Superintendent Strader Blankenship at the June 13 school board meeting.
“If you remember, we were getting finances to go out and look for security systems — one being a buzz-in system for the front doors of all of our schools — and then a number of other doors that would be opened with a person’s identification card,” the superintendent explained.
Noting a bid summary in the school board informational packet, Blankenship pointed out the bids for the installation of these items ranged from $114,997 to $205,099.
Staff members recommended selecting the low bid by Ken-Nect Communications of Winston-Salem, N.C., for the work, he said.
Because this bid was so much lower than the others, maintenance supervisor Eddie Vaughan went to see such a system in operation in another school division, Blankenship explained. He reported that the security measures work well.
Vaughan found that the security system is cheaper because it doesn’t require electricity to be run to each door, the superintendent said. The buzzers run off the network systems already in the building.
“That made a huge difference, and a lot of it is wireless,” he added.
Another feature is that, if the power goes off, the doors automatically lock so no one can get in from outside.
A large monitor will sit at the front desk, where the secretary can see who shows up at the front door.
“The person trying to be buzzed in the door has a camera facing them and a camera behind them, so the [school employee] can see both in front of the person and behind — it does show both views,” Blankenship said.
The set-up can include a monitor so that the principal can watch and unlock the front door, too.
Is there a chance that a panic button to police can be wired into the system, asked School Board Chairman Brian Spencer. “Had a parent asked me — if there’s something going on, you don’t want to stop and call.”
Blankenship believed that might be something that can be patched through the alarm system, which automatically calls police if the sensors go off.
The time the fire alarm went off at Laurel School, the system automatically called the fire department, for example.
“That might be something pretty easy to add on,” the superintendent said.
The plan is to have it installed before the new school year. Blankenship said law enforcement will have a master key to gain entry.
Spencer also had a question about the “swipe” cards that teachers will need to gain access to the building. What if a staff member loses theirs?
The moment it gets reported as missing, the principal will deactivate the card, Blankenship answered.
Spencer’s employees at the Shoney’s restaurant he manages have an incentive to not lose their swipe cards to get in the cash register. If they do, they are fined.
After the company loads all the information into the system the first time, it will be the principal’s job to update the system.
A staff member’s card is likely to admit that person through a door close to their classroom, Blankenship said. A door on the other side of the building might not admit that swipe card.
It will be a like a hotel key, the cards will be able to be programmed, he added in response to questions. So, if a teacher expresses a desire to the principal to come in over the weekend and do some work, the card can be programmed for that.
School board member Joey Haynes made a motion to accept the low bid. All school board members approved the motion.
School officials have asked for the work at the high school to be done first, Blankenship said.
The superintendent wants to make sure that members of the community learn about the buzz-in system, so notices will be sent home with students when school resumes.
Signs will have to be installed, as well.
Educators still want schools to be a welcoming place, Blankenship said. “First of all, we need to be seen as a welcoming place. Unfortunately, if you have to buzz in, I’m not sure how welcoming it is.”
People who want access to the high school can be out of the weather in the foyer, but it won’t be that way at all the facilities, Blankenship said.
What will outside groups that use the facilities, like a church, do, school board member Reggie Gardner asked.
“We haven’t worked through all those details,” Blankenship said. “That is an issue.”