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December 18. 2012 10:20AM

Central High sprawling campus makes high-tech security difficult

MANCHESTER - In the world of 21st century school security, there exists the sophisticated systems of security cameras, locked doors and buzzer entries, and there exists Manchester High School-Central.

Manchester school officials acknowledged yesterday that Central - the oldest high school in the state - lacks much of the high-tech security of other schools. That's because the school's campus-like atmosphere - five separate buildings, some of them unconnected by hallways - necessitate student movement out-of-doors.

Several times each day, students traverse a central courtyard, using front doors to enter and exit buildings.

Principal Ronald Mailhot said he gives school administrators, including himself, offices that look upon the courtyard, in order to keep on eye on who's entering the school. Likewise, the office of School Resource Officer Kim Barbee overlooks the courtyard.

"We try to be as vigilant as we can be," said Mailhot, whose office is in the Burns Building. "People can come into this building. That's the way it is."

Meanwhile, the rest of the Manchester school buildings have a security system that controls entry. Superintendent Tom Brennan said all 14 elementary schools have security cameras that monitor the front entrances and a buzzer entry system. Middle and high schools, with the exception of Central, have similar systems, he said.

In Bedford, all schools have security systems, direct emergency notification systems to the Bedford police, and doors and locks to discourage entry during lockdown, district officials said.

Brennan said it was an error on his part to say recently that all schools have "limited and controlled access."

"It's not perfect. We don't have locks on all the doors in the quad," Brennan said.

But he stressed that doors on the perimeter of buildings at Central are locked, and Mailhot said he's recently moved to restrict access further. For example, the Maple Street doors on the James Building are no longer unlocked.

Mailhot said he believes Central is safe. The faculty and students participate in drills, and officials keep on eye on the quad from their offices. Whenever an unfamiliar person is walking on the quad - for example, a nearby resident taking a shortcut - Barbee or Mailhot will confront the person, he said.

Mailhot said he's not sure a buzzer system would be useful. The school's 2,100 students have only four minutes to move from one class to another, and when schools were upgraded about a decade ago, an underground walkway between Classical Arts and Practical Arts was removed in favor of a parking garage.

Without use of the courtyard, hallways would be jammed, he said. So the staff and students drill, and everyone knows their responsibility in the event of a crisis.

"Nothing's perfect," he said, "but I'm satisfied."

(Union Leader correspondent Kathy Remillard contributed to this article.)

mhayward@unionleader.com


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