GASTONIA A newly formed task force re-evaluating safety issues at Gaston County’s 55 schools on Wednesday announced $10.58 million in recommendations – including fences, panic button systems and updated surveillance equipment.
Some ideas were high-tech, but one called for rubber door stops to hinder intruders from entering classrooms.
The 20-member group made up of educators, parents and law enforcement began meeting earlier this year after December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The task force was formed with subcommittees looking into four major areas: facilities, personnel, training and mental health.
“This group was thorough and worked proficiently and diligently as a team,” said task force co-chairman Capt. Bill Melton with the Gaston County Police. “They exceeded my wildest expectation.”
• Front lobby security to prevent intruders from entering classroom areas. Visitors would be allowed into student areas only by front office personnel using remote door release technology. Involves doors, locking mechanisms, and wall construction at some locations. Four schools may need front office relocation. ($2 million)
• Sworn law enforcement officers for elementary schools, in addition to officers in place at secondary schools. (Undetermined cost)
• Exterior door security upgrades, including hardware so doors will remain locked at all times; replacement of exterior doors as needed; and intrusion alarm system for exterior doors. Also, high fencing to enclose walkways between buildings, and enhanced security for mobile classrooms. ($2.4 million)
• Intercom upgrades and panic button systems to provide direct calls to police and announce lockdown alerts to schools. ($300,000)
• Surveillance equipment, including exterior and interior cameras and recording equipment. ($1.98 million)
• One school security associate per 800 students for secondary schools. ($200,304)
Recommendations that cost no money were presented for immediate approval. These include creation of safety committees at each school; having a mental health therapist at each school; yearly school security updates of substitute teachers through human resources; updated training videos; annual metal-detection training for all schools; at least two lockdown drills per semester; and encouragement of drills conducted by local police.
The task force voted unanimously to send the recommendations on to Gaston School Superintendent Reeves McGlohon and Gaston County Police Chief James Buie. The Gaston County Board of Education will review the safety package at its meeting on Monday but will take no action..
Task force co-chair Mark Hollar said finding the funds to implement the recommendations will be a “major factor.”
“Hopefully, over time we’ll be able to get these things done, maybe all of them,” said Hollar, who is assistant superintendent. “We have a safe school system. To stay on the cutting edge of school safety we need to do things.”