January 16, 2013

SAD 49 weighing beefed up security

District considers additional security measures at Fairfield, Albion, Benton, Clinton schools following Connecticut shooting

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- The school district is considering additional security measures, including more security cameras and panic buttons, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The Dec. 14 shooting, in which a lone gunman killed 20 children and six Sandy Hook School staff members at the school, has prompted districts across the state to review their security measures.

In Fairfield, the district will take a fresh look at how to balance security and costs without undermining the educational atmosphere, topics that were discussed at a meeting between security industry representatives and school board members this week.

The district's current security efforts are similar to comparable districts across the state, Bob Cayer, president of Waterville's Cayer Security Services, told the facilities committee of School Administrative District 49, which has schools in Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield.

Newer school buildings, however, are designed with more security features in mind, such as bullet-resistant Plexiglas and buzzer-entry systems, Cayer said.

He made a few recommendations, which included increasing the number of security cameras in the district, currently estimated at more than 80; locking down certain perimeter doors; adding panic buttons that trigger alarms; and focusing on staff training procedures.

"Those are some of the things I would recommend that would have a lower cost and greater effect than spending a lot of money to make the school more like a prison," Cayer said.

Board Chairman Steve Grenier, Albion, said a Jan. 9 incident at Lawrence High School demonstrated that the current security system, the details of which are being withheld to maintain its integrity, is working well.

Staff members at the school approached Ronald Brousseau, a 48-year-old man with a history of mental problems and violence, after noticing him in the school's hallways. Brousseau, who was unarmed, was arrested on school grounds after he refused to leave, according to police.

"Our system, up to and including the other day, has worked very well," Grenier said. "Upgrading to be more efficient is what I'm interested in. We could spend all the money in the world and still not be safe."

Grenier said the school needs to implement security measures that make sense.

"We cannot afford to have bulletproof Plexiglas on every window, and steel doors," he said.

Once the security company generates price quotes for different security options, they will be presented to the district's board of directors.

"What I suspect the board will wrestle with is matching our wants to our budget and prioritizing," Superintendent Dean Baker said.

Cayer, Baker and Grenier agreed that staff training is critical to providing the most secure school and that having staff members who know how to respond appropriately is often more important than technology-based solutions.

"After Newtown, we asked staff to increase their vigilance; and in Newtown, that's what saved the most lives," Baker said.

In nearby Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, which has schools in Belgrade, China, Rome and Sidney, Superintendent Gary Smith recently said that he, too, was considering tighter security controls, including security cameras, student IDs and buzzer-access entrances.

The Sandy Hook shooting also prompted Maine's Department of Education to undertake a review of possible security fixes that could be implemented on a statewide level, either by the department or the Legislature.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287

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