Families question security plans at Shelton school

A parent, grandparent and great-grandparent were among those expressing concerns at a March 9 public meeting about the extent of security upgrades planned for Long Hill Elementary School.

“Long Hill School should receive the same safety measures,” Long Hill parent Jennifer Sanborn told the Public Improvement Building Committee (PIBC), the city agency that oversees most upgrades to municipal and school buildings in Shelton.

Among the security improvements being made at various schools, the entrances are supposed to be fortified at three older buildings — Long Hill, Mohegan, and Elizabeth Shelton.

Redesigning the entryways

The so-called “three-school project” will involve entry re-designs and putting in new doors, windows and entry-card systems. The goal is to enable school office personnel to better see and control who is trying to enter the building.

Long Hill’s existing layout in the front is different from that of the other two schools, and this presents some challenges — including in creating a “man-way,” or an area between two different sets of doors where an intruder could be intentionally locked in for security purposes.

“They’re looking for that second set of doors,” Ben Trabka, the school system’s security supervisor and a retired Shelton police detective, told the PIBC.

'Situation is being addressed'

Bernie Simons, PIBC chairman, said the architect overseeing the project has been able to make some adjustments to initial plans and this should satisfy concerned family members.

“It should not be an issue,” Simons said. “The situation is being addressed.”

The PIBC discussed the three-school project later in the meeting, but this was done in executive session, so it was closed to the public and the press.

At the meeting, the PIBC also discussed the Sunnyside School roof project and multi-school solar panel project.

Want a secure building

Sanborn, who has two children at Long Hill and is active with the PTA there, said having a second set of doors “is key” to creating a secure building.

She said while she realizes Long Hill has a different layout, issues of money and time shouldn’t prevent Long Hill from getting a man-way, because not doing what is needed now could lead to tragic consequences later.

Vincent Maiolo, a Fairfield resident who has two great-grandchildren at Long Hill, said he’s been “shocked” at “how easy it is to get in there” when picking up the children at the school.

“Some improvements have to be made in the schools,” Maiolo said.

He told a story about a chance encounter with the grandparent of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student victim, and the impact that had on his mind-set.

After hearing that the Long Hill plans would be revised, he was pleased. “You’re on the right track, and that makes me feel good,” Maiolo said.

Improvements involve a process

Beth Gabriel, a PIBC member and Long Hill parent, said she would work with concerned Long Hill parents. “You can certainly come to me,” she said.

Gabriel also explained that school security improvements must go through a  process, and the PIBC will make its recommendations to the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Mark Lauretti, who then will act.

Simons said he expects the city to approve the project. The aldermen have expressed support for school security improvements on many occasions.

“The mayor is on board with the project. He’s very aware of the project,” said Simons, noting that Lauretti’s own children had attended Long Hill.

The architect is now completing the renderings of the proposed work, Simons said, and any work would be done during the summer when the schools are used much less.

Sunnyside roof

A contract has been signed with Silver/Petrucelli, a Hamden-based engineering and architectural firm, to oversee putting on a new roof at Sunnyside Elementary School.

The roof over the main building will be replaced because of leaks. The roof over the gym hasn’t presented problems and won’t be replaced.

This project should be done in the summer and completed before the start of the next school year, Simons said. “We’re in good shape for that,” he said of the timetable.

Silver/Petrucelli is the same firm working the three-school project. Simons said the city has “had really good experiences with them,” including when it comes to deadlines.

He said the firm specializes in school buildings and works on projects throughout the state.

Ken  LaCroix, the school district’s maintenance and custodial supervisor, agreed that Silver/Petrucelli has performed well. “It worked out great,” LaCroix said of two recent school projects with the company.

Solar panels on multiple schools

A private company, Solar City, has signed an agreement with the city to put solar panels on at least four Shelton schools — Long Hill, Perry Hill, Elizabeth Shelton, and Sunnyside.

Solar City installs and maintains the panels at no cost to the city, and sells the electricity back to the city at a guaranteed reduced rate so the school district saves money on electrical costs. “This could be a really good deal for us,” Simons said.

The project is part of a nationwide program to promote clean energy that is funded through tax credits and outside investors.

A representative of Solar City was unable to attend the meeting because of a family illness, and should be at the next PIBC meeting in April.
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Simons said it’s important for Silver/Petrucelli to be consulted on the solar panel project because of its expertise on city school building roofs. “We want it to go seamless,” he said.

Simons said he used Solar City for a project at his own home and was impressed. “They were immaculate” and “kept their word on everything,” he said.