Monday January 7, 2013

LENOX -- As the first in an expected series of stepped-up security initiatives following the Newtown massacre, Lenox Superintendent Edward W. Costa III is awaiting a price quote from a hardware specialist to retrofit the locks on classroom doors at the town's elementary and middle-high school.

The move -- which would enable teachers to lock doors from the inside in case of a security alert -- followed a meeting among Costa, Building Inspector William Thornton and deputy inspector Don Fitzgerald, who is also chairman of the School Committee. The project is designed to comply with municipal building codes, which differ from residential guidelines.

"We're trying to be efficient," Costa said of the plan, which avoids the purchase of costly new hardware.

Costa, Thornton and Fitzgerald toured Morris Elementary School and Lenox Memorial Middle and High School last week, which were both renovated in 1997 and, for the most part, contain identical door-lock sets.

The two schools include more than 100 classrooms. Phase two of the project would cover larger spaces such as gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias and libraries.

"We all recognize that none of these is foolproof," Costa said. "No matter what hardware we put on the doors, all we can hope is that we make it difficult, and it buys time. Every second can make a difference."

The detailed plan, including the cost, will be presented to Thornton, Fitzgerald and the full School Committee for discussion and approvals.


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It will require "a re-prioritization of some budget lines," Costa said. "But in my view, what greater price is there than to protect our kids? I believe this is a priority right now."

The retrofit had been part of a long-term capital improvement plan.

"I'll be presenting the plan with a request to start now, not even wait until next year," he said. "We can make this happen, that's my commitment. I know our teachers want it, I certainly want it, I'm sure our parents will want it."

The door-lock project is being designed by Kenneth W. Douglas, the president of Doorcraft Corp. in Holyoke.

A security-camera project also will be moved to higher-priority status, the superintendent said. Costa has discussed proposed security upgrades with Police Chief Stephen O'Brien and School Resource Officer William Colvin, who is assigned to the high school for eight hours each week.

Costa continues to oppose the stationing of police officers in the town's schools.

"I believe guns in schools, whether they be with armed officers, or with employees licensed to carry, are not the answer," he said. "I also don't believe taking guns from certified, licensed citizens who do everything the government asks is the answer. The No. 1 issue for our nation is mental health."

He said the sharp reduction of psychological services available for disturbed youths over recent decades "has made it incredibly hard for parents to get the help they need." Listing the perpetrators of mass shootings from Columbine to Virginia Tech, from Aurora (Colo.) to Newtown, Costa maintained that "every one of these people had at some point a severe mental health issue."

"Until our nation gets serious about mental health, in all forms, we're going to continue to face these things," he added. "Let's treat what the issue is, not peripheral symptoms."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.