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Bernardston may revisit school security project

BERNARDSTON — A school security project defeated unanimously at a March special town meeting may be revisited in May.

On March 23, voters decided not to approve a $15,000 system that would have provided handicapped access and a security camera and buzzer system at the front doors of Bernardston Elementary School.

BES Principal Robert Clancy told the Board of Selectmen last Wednesday that he regrets not being at the meeting to explain the project to voters.

“I think it was probably voted down not for lack of support, but lack of understanding,” said Clancy.

Selectman Robert Raymond said his board could have advocated for the project, but they’re not sure it’s what the school needs. His fellow board members agreed.

Raymond pointed out that a recently formed School Safety Task Force will be evaluating BES along with other Franklin and Hampshire County towns. This could result in recommendations that the school install a system above and beyond what Clancy is advocating for. Raymond said it may be more prudent to wait and see what the task force recommends.

He also said that security cameras and locked doors wouldn’t stop someone intent on getting into the school to do harm. Low windows that see directly into classrooms are also a weak point, he said, that wouldn’t be solved by security cameras and door buzzers.

The school has been locking its doors since the December shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left nearly 30 dead.

It relies on a remote doorbell, that works intermittently, said Clancy. When it’s pressed, either Clancy, the school secretary, or the nurse, has to get up from their work, walk to the door and open it. Clancy said this cuts down on productivity, and also puts whoever goes to open the door in front of the person wishing to get in.

With security systems and a remotely operated lock, he said, Clancy, the secretary, and the nurse would be able to see the person on a monitor before deciding whether to open the door.

While some are concerned about a possible attack on the school, Clancy said the system would also help deny access to people who shouldn’t be there due to child custody agreements or other issues.

Clancy said several BES parents asked that the town give the project another chance at the May 29 annual town meeting. He asked that the board put the $15,000 article onto the warrant, and that voters could decide whether to fund either the security system, the handicapped accessibility feature, or both.

“I think it’s very important to go for the security system,” said Clancy, adding that the handicapped accessibility option would also benefit two BES students who use wheelchairs, one temporarily, the other for the long term.

The project was brought before the special town meeting so that the town would be able to take advantage of a $5,000 loss prevention grant approved for the project. To use the funds, the project would have had to be completed by mid-June.

Clancy suggested that the town could re-apply for the grant the next time it comes around, lessening the amount that would have to be taken from the school’s capital expense fund to pay for the project.

The board was reluctant to put the article onto the annual town meeting warrant. The board decided to table the matter, and reconsider it at the next meeting. They would not guarantee Clancy that they would approve it for the warrant at that meeting.

Instead, they suggested that concerned residents start collecting signatures to have the article put on the warrant by petition.

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

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