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Dresden Tightens Schools’ Security

Hanover — The school s in Hanover and Norwich will have new security measures in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting . There are plans to add more security cameras, break-in resistant film on windows and magnetic locks for doors that can be activated by a push of a button, among other things.

At the same time, School Administrative Unit 70 worked with the principals of all four schools and made individualized plans for each building in an effort to maintain the sense of community in each building.

“We could turn the building into a fortress and nobody’s going to get in, but then it’s not a school anymore,” Superintendent Frank Bass said.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Bass met with the police department and Jonathan Brush, the director of the supervisory union’s physical plant, to create concrete steps to make each building safer. The business administrator also shuffled money around so that $10,000 can be spent at each of the four school buildings out of the current budget. This means that many of the improvements will be in place by the first day of school next fall.

Since the December shooting, it has become a practice to have a daily police presence within each building. This has allowed for an increased feeling of safety, and officers have gotten to know the layout of the schools better. The Hanover Police Department also offered to let the supervisory union use its retired bullet proof vests, but Bass said that’s not a priority at this time.

“Basically, what we have is a town,” Brush said. “We have a town of 2,200 people. And our size needs the assistance from the police department.”

The district plans to put reflective film on various windows so that when someone looks into the building, they can’t see in. Break-in resistant film will also be put on some of the windows. If someone were to try to break one of the windows that is covered in resistant film, the glass wouldn’t shatter, but instead bond together into one piece. The window would spiderweb and crack, but it wouldn’t break, much like a windshield.

“The Sandy Hook man would probably not make it through our glass once we did this,” Brush said, noting that Adam Lanza broke through glass to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The district also plans to add additional cameras on the inside and outside of buildings. If there is a real-time disturbance inside the building, members of the administration could see what was happening on the cameras and then instruct police officers to the exact spot of the incident.

Often times during an emergency, a school’s phone lines can become flooded by parents trying to get information about a school. When that happens, administrators can’t always make outside calls. So a dedicated phone line will be added that can’t be interrupted and can be used to call the police, or anyone else.

Each school will also be equipped with magnetic locking doors. Currently, the main entrance doors have to be locked with a key, but with this new system, the front door can be locked by a push of a button and will be latched shut by a magnet.

“That door is like concrete. It won’t open,” Brush said.

Additionally, the district has checked to make sure the intercom system is working in all four buildings, and additional walkie-talkies will be bought.

Brush said that the $10,000 allocated for each school might not be enough to finish all the improvements, but it will allow for a good start.

This isn’t the first time the schools have thought about safety. Brush said improvements have been made to the school on a regular basis since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Additionally, the Dresden School Board started making safety and security an agenda item at each meeting at the beginning of the school year. But when the Sandy Hook shooting happened, the conversations became more urgent.

“It was a question of stepping it up and making sure there weren’t issues that could be addressed that would minimize the risks going forward,” Dresden School Board Chairman Carey Callaghan said.

Despite the changes, Bass said he wants the buildings to still feel welcoming. For example, the schools aren’t being forced to keep their main entrance doors locked all the time. With the magnetic lock system, principals will have the option to keep their doors locked at all times and only unlock them for visitors. But currently, Bass is allowing principals to decide how they want to handle their main entrances.

Bass defended that decision by saying that the Hanover Police Department supported the supervisory union’s plans. Brush added that he has learned that there are many scenarios that can be planned for and a fortune could be spent on building improvements, and it still might not be enough to allay concerns.

“What we need to create is resistance,” Brush said. “You just can’t know if the threat will come from outside the building or inside the building. It’s tough. It’s really very tough.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.