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City School Officials Examine District’s Security Measures

Lebanon — School district officials are weighing new safety measures — including new video cameras, state-of-the-art locks for classroom doors and revised lock-down procedures — in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

“In light of the very tragic situation in Connecticut, we have begun to look even more closely at security in the district,” Superintendent Gail Paludi said at last week’s School Board meeting.

Paludi said district officials would meet soon with Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos to review the alarm system at Lebanon High School and at the adjoining Hanover Street School. In addition, the district is looking at making changes to the front doors and rewiring existing video cameras, as well as placing new video cameras at multiple locations.

Board member Al Patterson, a Hanover police officer, said it was important to involve the Lebanon Police Department in the safety discussions. Paludi noted that she “has been in conversation with (Lebanon Police Chief James Alexander) since the day after Newtown happened.”

“We have an immediate need with the alarms,” she said.

Some back-and-forth followed the announcement of a new lock-down plan in the works for the Lebanon Middle School.

Jim Fenn, the district’s business administrator, said the district has “come up with what we think is a brilliant idea” to improve hallway lock-downs in the event of an emergency.

Fenn said fire doors in the hallway are held open by magnets, and that an “emergency button” could be installed at the front desk that would trigger those doors to shut and lock immediately.

But board members and one teacher who sat as a member of the public had questions about the policy.

“That’s a great idea,” board member Carissa Means said, “but what if the students are in the hall and you’ve locked them in?”

Fenn said the fire doors would open for someone exiting, but not someone entering. The doors, he said, would effectively block a potential shooter from entering other parts of the building.

“We’re trying to think outside the box and be creative,” he said. “We want to use what we have without having hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses.”

Teacher Susan Derosiers opposed the idea.

“We have awful long hallways,” she said. “If you’re at one end, that’s an awful long way to ask a 5-year-old to get out.”

She added, “Right now we’re training them to get into the closest room. If we close down all the doors, they’ll have no place to go.”

Patterson noted that the Newtown, Conn., shooting was still under investigation.

“I encourage us to give the investigators who are working on this a chance,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we should do this properly so that we don’t make a decision hastily that we later found out was not what we should have done.”

Fenn said money is available to pay for new locks at Mount Lebanon School, but he is still waiting on the cost. He estimated that it would take two to three weeks cost up to $30,000 to replace the doors and locks at Hanover Street School, but retrofitting the Mount Lebanon school would cost less.

Replacing outdated locks at the high school could cost up to $50,000, said Fenn, who predicted the job would be a “nightmare, because the building was built in three different times and each section has a different type of lock.”

The locks at the new middle school will not need to be replaced, according to Paludi. Changes to the library doors and the music room to make them more functional under a school lock-down scenario have already been completed, she said.

Paludi said that another “top priority” for the district was to review the security of the hallways connecting the high school to Hanover Street School.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.