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updated: 3/1/2013 5:03 PM

St. Charles schools eye $354,000 in security upgrades

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St. Charles Unit District 303 schools may get a $354,000 security upgrade -- including new locks on doors to 630 classrooms -- in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings.

A school board committee Friday supported a package of new security devices, funding for which is uncertain, designed to address the potential of repeating some of the security flaws in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The biggest-ticket item involves changing the door locks throughout the district. The new locks would allow teachers to lock a classroom from the inside for the first time. Currently, doors can be locked only with a key from the outside of a class. The change would help prevent an intruder from entering a classroom even if the person somehow found a way into the building. The locks would cost $189,000.

Responding to a desire by school building staff to have a more direct and speedy conduit to police services, administrators are suggesting installation of 50 panic buttons in various school buildings. The buttons would work similar to a silent alarm trigger at banks. Any push of the button would bring police to the location. The cost of the button is $5,000.

Building principals also said they want the ability to access the intercom systems from anywhere in the building. That would allow a principal a faster means of notifying building personnel of an emergency than having to run back to the main office. The upgrade to classroom phones will cost $71,000. Nearly half that cost would come at Thompson Middle School, where the entire intercom system must be replaced.

Finally, high school students and teachers should prepare for more video cameras monitoring their activities. The security plan calls for 43 additional security cameras to be mounted in the two high schools. District administrators identified several blind spots in the high schools that cameras don't currently monitor. Many of the new cameras would be positioned to track movement in and out of the buildings. However, more than half the new cameras would be placed in music practice rooms.

Board members expressed some concern about creating a "Big Brother" atmosphere by putting cameras in classrooms. Superintendent Don Schlomann said the music rooms are of particular concern because they are frequently used for isolated, one-on-one interaction between a student and a teacher.

"Across the country, there are accusations, founded and unfounded, that occur in those one-on-one environments," Schlomann said. "I see this as a deterrent for anyone making such accusations. It is for the protection of our staff and students."

The cameras would cost $88,400.

There is no money in the current budget for any of the upgrades. If the full board votes to approve the new security plan, they'll first have to prioritize other repairs or building maintenance to find the money, staff said. Board member Jim Gaffney said he is on board with deferring some other projects in favor of better security.

"We have to find the money," he said. "It should be done."

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