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Bernardston moves up school security vote

Grant eligibility cited

  • Recorder file photo<br/>Students play outside the entrance to Bernardston Elementary School.

    Recorder file photo
    Students play outside the entrance to Bernardston Elementary School.

  • Recorder/Peter MacDonald<br/>The entrance to the Bernardston Elementary School, which hopes to get a security upgrade.<br/>

    Recorder/Peter MacDonald
    The entrance to the Bernardston Elementary School, which hopes to get a security upgrade.

  • Recorder file photo<br/>Students play outside the entrance to Bernardston Elementary School.
  • Recorder/Peter MacDonald<br/>The entrance to the Bernardston Elementary School, which hopes to get a security upgrade.<br/>

BERNARDSTON — To use a grant to beef up school security, the town may vote on a $15,000 project ahead of schedule.

The project would install a front-door buzzer system, combined with a security camera, so the door may be monitored and unlocked from three different locations. The system would also include a powered door opener for handicapped visitors to the school.

To use a $5,000 grant from the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association toward the project, the town must act quickly. The grant specifies that it must be spent by June 30, leading selectmen to suggest that the project be voted on at a March 25 special town meeting.

The grant was something of a surprise, according to Administrative Assistant Hugh Campbell.

“The school, as part of the district, is not insured by MIIA, (the town’s insurer),” Campbell told selectmen Wednesday. “To my pleasant surprise, MIIA said that, although they don’t insure the district, the liability could fall on the town, so they were willing to consider the $5,000 grant toward security measures.”

A similar security system had failed a previous town meeting vote, said Virginia Budness, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.

“The town voted against funding (a security system) four years ago, but now there’s more pressure (due to recent national events),” she said.

Fellow board member Louis Bordeaux was not convinced that the proposed systems would prevent unwanted people from getting into district schools.

“We could spend a $1 million on security at Pioneer, and still have no guarantee of safety,” he said.

Selectman Robert Raymond pointed out that some Vermont schools are replacing all windows with bullet-proof glass, and Budness said some Bernardston residents would prefer the entire school property be surrounded by a fence.

Bordeaux observed that many businesses are getting rich off the fears of parents and communities.

“This whole reaction to Sandy Hook, while it was a tragedy, has been a boon to the security industry,” said Bordeaux. While it starts with security cameras and door buzzers, he questioned where it would end.

“Who’s to say whether a school is doing enough (in terms of security)?” he asked rhetorically at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Moving the vote up

The article would’ve come up at the annual town meeting, tentatively scheduled for the first Thursday in June.

Were the vote on the project to be taken in June, it would give the town precious little time to get the work done within the grant’s timeframe.

A similar security system has been proposed for Pioneer Valley Regional School, also estimated at $15,000. The cost would be split by the district’s four towns. Northfield and Bernardston would pay 52 and 30 percent of the project, with Leyden and Warwick each paying 9 percent.

Northfield Elementary School received a front door buzzer and monitor last summer, after a group of citizens raised concerns over safety.

December’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. put security back on the front burner for schools across the country.

“After the Connecticut incident, we’ve taken the opportunity to look at (our emergency response plans) carefully, and we will continue to do so,” said district Superintendant Dayle Doiron. “They’re something we review regularly anyway, but these events certainly are an opportunity to learn from.”

Doiron said remotely operated door locks buy schools valuable time in the event of an intruder. That time, she said, allows schools to put their emergency plans into action and call police.

Doiron said the entrances of Warwick Community School and Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School are kept locked, and staff responds to a doorbell to let in visitors. This system is sufficient in the district’s smaller schools because their front entrances are visible from the main offices, and they have fewer visitors than the other district schools, said Doiron.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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