School security: The price of safety


DALTON -- Administrators at Wahconah Regional High School can see the school building and grounds from 36 different angles.

Video security cameras are trained on hallways, entryways, parking lots, the cafeteria, and other common meeting areas that can be viewed on television monitors. There were only four such cameras at Wahconah six years ago.

"It's an important tool we've realized over the past couple of years," said Wahconah's dean of students, Steve Messina, who started the safety project with former vice principal Marty Phillips.

"It helps us with the blind spots in the school," said Wahconah's current vice principal, Aaron Robb.

In Berkshire County, school officials say security and safety are a wide-ranging effort that requires ongoing investments in time, money, personnel and labor.

Although Wahconah has a security fund to help pay for some security measures, Phillips, Messina and Robb installed the cables and equipment for surveillance at the school on their own.

"We've done all the labor," Messina said. "If we didn't do that, we wouldn't be able to afford it."

In their 2011 report "The Hidden Cost of School Security," Karen J. DeAngelis, Brian O. Brent and Danielle Ianni of the University of Rochester found that recent school shootings in the United States had prompted policymakers to address the perception that the nation's schools are unsafe.

"As education policymakers continue to press for additional security initiatives," they wrote, "it is important to understand the costs borne by school systems for these programs."

The issue was heightened in December after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The massacre claimed the lives of 20 students and six staff members.

K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are pressed to invest in the tools, resources and people to address school safety issues.

"In general, we're spending more than in the past. The biggest expense is in salaries," said Paige Orloff, director of communications at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington.

Simon's Rock experienced its own tragic security breach in December 1992, when then-student Wayne Lo shot and killed another student and a professor, and wounded four other people before surrendering to police.

Lo, who originally is from Montana, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Orloff said security remains a priority at Simon's Rock. The college has computer-controlled access to buildings, clears brush from pathways, and maintains comprehensive lighting around school buildings and roads.

In 2006, the Pittsfield Public Schools were awarded a three-year, $2.8 million grant from the federal "Healthy Schools/Healthy Students" initiative. In addition to health and wellness programs, the grant helped fund the purchase of walkie-talkie radios, video security cameras and automated external defibrillator (AED) units.

School Adjustment Counselor Alicia Couture, who helped the Pittsfield schools obtain the grant, said a single radio costs about $200, while each AED unit can cost $1,000 to $1,100 without charging pads.

Those units have to be maintained every three years, and battery life is about five years. An interior security camera can cost $500 to $700, while exterior cameras are in the $1,300 range.

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As with most electronics, the higher the quality, the higher the cost.

At the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, campus police are armed and have the ability to make arrests.

Joseph Charon, MCLA's director of public safety and the campus police since 2006, said grants and emergency planning with other agencies are common practices among educational institutions to help them reduce costs and share resources.

"When we talk about funding safety and security, we have to be a little creative in this economy," said Charon, who has been involved in law enforcement since 1991.

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One district's costs

The Central Berkshire Regional School District, which has seven member towns and six school buildings, recently conducted a district-wide security evaluation in conjunction with local and state police. Its itemized budget for security improvements is $72,000.

• New exterior security cameras (27 units): $40,500

• Cement bollards (23 posts) in front of front doors: $11,500

• New PA system: $9,362

• New portable radios (25 units): $5,000

• Replacing front doors to half glass units (for one school): $3,000

• Phone for computer lab (at one school): $400

• Contingency fund: $2,238

Source: Central Berkshire Regional School District


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