Berkshires schools look to bolster security

In the wake of the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Connecticut, the national conversation has turned to both gun control and school safety. In Berkshire County school districts, the focus is on ways to bolster basic security like door locks and entry procedures to buildings. 

Within weeks of the tragedy, superintendents across the Berkshires began responding to concerns about existing security in schools. In Lenox, a plan is underway to install locks on individual classroom doors as the first step in a promised series of new measures; additional security cameras are another possibility. Schools in the the small towns of the North Berkshire School Union are looking at things like new intercom systems. 

In North Adams, superintendent Jim Montapare is focused on the the three elementary schools, the most recent of which was built in 1993. The design of older buildings like these, he says,  lacks some of the security measures that have become commonplace, like a single, locked entryway leading directly to the building’s main office. 

“It’s not a matter of our buildings not being secured and locked, it’s just trying to bring a 60-year old building up to a new, different type of security standard that we would want for our schools.”

He’d like to see multiple sets of double-doors at each school’s entrance, a retrofit that is pretty straightforward. Trickier is managing access to the building once a visitor is buzzed in. A typical floor plan of a 1960′s-era school, Montapare says, might have the main office down one corridor. 

“Once they’re in the building, they now have access to everything. So if they knock that person over and do whatever they’re gonna do, now they can go left, they can go right, they can go forward, and and they’re in the building at large.”

And in one North Adams elementary school, the gymnasium is shared with the local YMCA. School employees are positioned at desks near front doors, Montpare says, but glass dividers and cameras would provide more security when the main office is out of sight of the entrance. New security doors could cost ten thousand dollars, he says, but projects to fully re-route a building’s entryway could run into the hundreds of thousands. Montpare expects to add at least some new security measures before the end of this school year.