School security upgrades being pursued in Shelton

School Supt. Freeman Burr held up a framed piece of glass in front of the Board of Aldermen.

“This is an example of the actual firing test,” Burr told the aldermen, explaining that the different types of window glass found in Shelton schools had been used in tests conducted by Shelton police officers at a firing range.

The glass, strengthened with security film on two sides, had been shot at with assault weapons, shotguns and pistols from various distances. Police also hit the glass with a pickax and shovel during the tests.

While the glass shattered, it did not break. “As you can see, this [glass] maintained its integrity,” said Burr, explaining the goal is to delay the ability of any intruder to enter a school building.

“This window film does exactly that,” he said.

Access was quick in Newtown

Burr emphasized that delay is the objective in school security, because no glass is truly bullet-proof and any intruder is likely to gain access if given enough time.

Unfortunately in Newtown, he said, “the access was almost immediate.”

The security film — or thin coating added to both sides of a window — that the Board of Education (BOE) wants to buy and install would be combined in some places with steel mesh, designed to prevent an intruder from putting his arm through broken glass to open a door or window.

Funding request made to aldermen

Burr was before the aldermen to seek city funding to install the window security film at Shelton High, Shelton Intermediate and Perry Hill schools. The cost, including installation, is likely to be about $150,000.

The school system also would install the window security film at Booth Hill and Sunnyside schools with funds from its own budget.

The city’s three other elementary schools — Long Hill, Mohegan and Elizabeth Shelton — are expected to go through more extensive architectural changes to upgrade security in the near future because of their designs, so installing the window security film wouldn’t make sense.

Burr will be asking for city funds to make the structural improvements to these three elementary schools, and expects to have the support of Mayor Mark Lauretti and the aldermen.

School officials now are meeting with three potential architectural firms on this work, which would involve entryway, window and exterior door changes.

‘This is a priority project’

Aldermanic President John F. Anglace Jr. told Burr the aldermen support the security measures being pursued by the BOE.

“You should expect we’re going to approve it,” Anglace said of the needed funds. “We support what you’re doing.”

Anglace said money isn’t the issue, but rather improving security for children and staff in the schools. “This is a priority project,” he stressed.

How much funding will be needed depends on exactly what measures are taken, Anglace said, but school officials should pursue upgrades as soon as possible.

Other aldermen agreed, saying BOE officials shouldn’t wait until the summer to do work or wait until funding for all desired security projects is in place.

Committee will oversee process

The aldermen took action to put the Public Improvement Building Committee (PIBC) in charge of overseeing the window security film work. The PIBC already is handling a related project for school security cameras.

The security improvements being pursued by the BOE are in reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December, which led to the death of 20 first graders and six educators.

The specific actions being taken are primarily based on two security audits of Shelton public school buildings.

Security cameras being added first

The school district will add state-of-the-art surveillance camera systems to the five elementary schools. This is a $467,000 project, with a state grant covering slightly more than one-third of the cost.

The web-based cameras will provide surveillance both inside and outside the buildings, with the images accessible inside the school, at police headquarters and in police vehicles.

“The surveillance will be all-encompassing,” said BOE Finance Director Al Cameron.

The three non-elementary schools already have camera surveillance systems.

Going out to bid on cameras soon

School officials said the school security camera contract could go out to bid in the next few weeks.

At a recent PIBC meeting, Joseph DeSanti, a construction management consultant for the BOE, said the bid specifications for the security cameras are almost completed and should include requirements for adequate staff training and extended warranties.

Based on the state grant, the cameras are to be installed by the end of calendar year 2014, but it’s now possible this will be done by the end of the current school year in June.

The school district also is working to complete bid specifications for the window security film contract.

Parent concerns on pace of work

Parents have raised questions about the pace of the security improvements, speaking at both Board of Aldermen and PIBC meetings.

“Our concern is the speed that things are moving forward,” said Denise Broad, a Booth Hill parent.

Michele Bookbinder, a Booth Hill School parent, said the security improvements have been the focus of discussion since the spring. “My concern as a parent is, can’t we just start?” she told aldermen. “What can we do to get the ball rolling?”

'A strong sense of urgency'

Carla Bucherati, Long Hill PTA president and parent, said the time for action is now. “There is a strong sense of urgency,” she said. “I want the school to be safe.”

Beth Gabriel, a Long Hill parent, asked about establishing a timeline for installing the school security cameras.

Jessica Sciamanna, a Long Hill parent, worried the process was getting slowed down by bureaucratic requirements. “We all feel frustration, especially with the [Sandy Hook] anniversary coming up,” she said.

School officials noted any large project must go through a building committee, and utilizing the PIBC will speed up the process since it’s already in existence.