Security upgrades sought for schools

NASHUA – Locking the main entrances to schools and creating a “buzz-in” system are among the security upgrades that would be included in a $2.21 million proposed project.

The Nashua School District would have to get authorization from the Board of Aldermen to use the money from the city’s school capital reserve fund.

Currently, the main entrances to all of the elementary and middle schools are unlocked during the day, although anyone entering the building is required to stop in the main office and sign in.

At some schools, such as Elm Street Middle School, Broad Street Elementary School and Mount Pleasant Elementary School, the main entrance isn’t in view of the main office.

If the project were to go through, visitors could get into the buildings only if someone in the main office lets them in.

“When we do a self-look (at security), we see certain vulnerabilities,” Shawn Smith, director of plant operations, said Friday. “We want to try and improve our ability to keep people out.”

At the two high schools, the main entrances are locked and visitors during the day – including students – are required to sign in before being allowed into the building.

All schools would also be outfitted with exterior surveillance cameras. In addition, all other doors at each school would be equipped with card reader or proximity key systems.

Students wouldn’t be locked into the buildings, but an alarm would be activated if any door were to be opened without authorization.

“Those alarms will go back to a central monitoring station in the main office in each school,” Smith said.

There has been discussion for several years about the need to upgrade security in the schools, dating to reports generated in 2001 and 2004 that cited issues.

In 2007, school district officials went before the aldermen’s budget committee to request $554,00 for security upgrades. But the aldermen asked the school district to hire a consultant.

“That’s what has happened and this is what they’re coming back with,” Jim Mealey, the school district’s chief operating officer, told members of the Board of Education on Tuesday night.

At the meeting, board members voted in favor of asking the Board of Aldermen to take the $2.21 million out of the city’s school district capital reserve fund, which has about $7.3 million in it.

Mealey said the money would cover the entire scope of the project, including installation.

“It includes making sure all main entrances are locked with buzzers, making sure all other points of access are controlled with card readers and exterior cameras for surveillance,” he said.

Last year, the school district hired W.L. Bliss, a security-consulting firm, to conduct an audit of the security of the city’s schools and what needed to be done. The report raised several concerns about security in the schools.

The city schools are in an “extremely vulnerable situation regarding the ability . . . to protect their populations from trespass of unstable visitors and armed intruders,” according to the report produced by W.L. Bliss.

The project would be awarded to Surveillance Specialties Ltd., of Wilmington, Mass.

According to a memo from Smith, the district received 11 bids for the work, ranging in cost from $1.7 million to $2.9 million.

Smith wrote that Surveillance Systems was chosen because it was the lowest bidder to provide a Web-based system, which allows access to the system from remote sites, such as the police department.

Mealey told board members Tuesday that if the funding is approved, work on the project could begin over the summer.

Smith said the project would also include replacing doors within the schools. Currently, some teachers are unable to lock their classroom doors in case someone is in the building, he said.

Smith said some elementary and middle schools already have surveillance cameras. This would outfit all schools.

In addition to the project, Chris Lessard, the school district’s head of security, is recommending an overhaul of the district’s policies and procedures when it comes to security.

Among the recommendations would be to require all employees to be issued photo identification, which would have to be worn prominently at all times. Also, all visitors would be required to produce photo identification.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or