The Brick school district is moving ahead with a referendum question which will ask voters to approve $12.5 million in bonds to fund school security upgrades.
District officials and law enforcement experts say they worked together to develop the priorities for the project, which will upgrade facilities at all of the district’s 12 schools simultaneously in time for the 2019-20 school year to begin. The vast majority of the funding will go toward the construction of physical “mantrap” style entrances to all school buildings, also known as air locks. The mantraps would act as the new front doors to all schools, and when a visitor walks in, they will see a window where they can check in before gaining access to the building as a whole.
Another major component of the project will be technology, including major upgrades to security cameras, as well as new ID card systems, an instant check on driver’s licenses of visitors against criminal and sex offender databases and apps on the smartphones of every first responder in town that will allow a full map view of each school and the position of individual police officers, EMTs and firefighters in the event of an emergency.
Some of the software will be obtained through grants while other applications will be funded through the referendum. The mapping app is one of the most important aspects of the technology side of the plan, officials said.
“The most important piece … every single EMT, firefighter and police officer in Brick has a designated number,” said Dennis Filippone, Director of Planning, Research and Evaluation for the district. “The chief would be able to track where every one of those people are in the building at any given time.”
The “most crucial” part of the project, said Filippone, is the physical upgrades to buildings.
“There will be a new access window where people will have to stop before coming into each school,” said Larry Uher, of Netta Architects, a district contractor that has drawn up plans for the construction.
At several schools – Brick Memorial High School, Brick Township High School, Drum Point Elementary, Lanes Mill Elementary, and Osbornville Elementary – classrooms will become the new main office with the protective air lock outside, while office space will be converted into classroom space to make up for the loss. At other schools, such as Herbertsville and Midstreams elementary schools, new secured doors will be installed on top of the existing entry systems, which can be more easily modified to create the air lock.
The physical barriers to entry constitute the vast majority of the $12,580,000 required to complete the project. Security cameras, in most schools, were the second biggest-ticket item. A representative from a security firm told residents at a recent board meeting that the new camera systems would record in high definition, night vision and wide angles. They would also feature motion detection, shooter detection in case a gunman was present, tamper detection and broken glass detection.
Some residents were skeptical of the plan, saying it may not be as effective as officials say. Some referenced the school shooting in February in Parkland, Fla. as an example.
“How many shooters come in through the front office?” asked Madeline Iannarone. “How about the crazy kid who’s a shooter just having a friend let him in? Is there an alarm to notify the office that another door had opened?”
Indeed, the technology suite the district is consider would alert school officials to a side door that was opened.
The $12.5 million in bonding would be reimbursed at 40 percent by the state. The district’s figures on the cost of the project per taxpayer – $5.34 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, or $15.77 for an owner of a home valued at $295,100, the township average – are based on the state contributing its share.
“There are no guarantees that we will get that $6 million and change,” said resident George Scott, referencing the state’s financial woes. “That worries me.”
“I never feel confident of a referendum passing in Brick, and state aid – I wouldn’t count on two cents from them,” said John Sluka, who asked if the district could fund the upgrades separately through the regular school budget.
“We want to give every single building the opportunity to be safe and secure at the same time,” said Filippone, calling it an “impossible choice” to pick and choose which schools receive upgrades in which order.
The referendum will appear on the November general election ballot. According to officials, if voters approve the measure, a statement of funds would be certified by May 22, 2019, bonds would be sold the following month , then the district could go out to bid on the project and hire a contractor to complete the work.
A summary of improvements includes:
- Interior renovations at several schools to provide secured vestibules.
- Video surveillance systems that cover all areas of school facilities, including outdoor areas.
- A “situational awareness” technology program known as CLASS (which stands for Crisis Lockdown Alert Status System), which would allow doors to be centrally locked if an intruder were to enter a school building, integrated alerts to police and first responders, panic buttons and strobe lights and an interface paging and mass notification system.
- “Hall Pass” software, a central visitor monitoring system in all 12 schools which would require visitors to scan a government-issued ID upon entry which would be checked against a national criminal database. The software would also print “no-ink” thermal badges and maintain records on every person who enters a school building.