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December 18. 2012 11:48PM

Nashua mayor vetoed school security upgrades in 2009

NASHUA - A security upgrade at Nashua's schools was vetoed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau in 2009.

At the start of a nearly four-hour Board of Education meeting on Monday night, former Nashua Alderman Fred Teeboom recalled a push after the Columbine shooting in 2009 to implement an Access Control System. The $2.21 million initiative, which was approved by the school board and aldermen, was subsequently vetoed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on the grounds of a ($3.3 million) school budget deficit, Teeboom said.

"The reason was primarily the deficit from the school district . based on an overly-generous teachers contract," he said, calling the decision short-sighted.

The aldermen, who had passed the item, 12-1, failed to override the veto.

Efforts to increase security in Nashua schools stretch back to Sept. 11, 2001.

After the terrorist attacks, Nashua police conducted security checks in Nashua schools, according to a document from the Aldermanic Budget Review Committee. Police expressed concerns such as exterior doors being left open and that visitor identification was checked only on a discretionary basis.

In response to the survey, the school district heightened visitor screening and began locking all doors except primary entrance and exits.

In 2007, the district requested $554,000 from the school board for security upgrades. The request was denied because a formal assessment had not been conducted, and the aldermen recommended that the district hire a security consultant.

The district hired W.L. Bliss Associates of Dedham, Mass., to develop recommendations and cost estimates, along with a request for proposal for the installation of an Access Control System across the district.

In July 2008, Bliss presented to the school board, noting that the district is "in an extremely vulnerable situation regarding the ability of individual school buildings to protect their populations from trespass of unstable visitors and armed intruders."

Bliss' concerns stretched across the district's 18 buildings in four areas: main entrance access; perimeter security; lockdown capability; and communications.

An RFP for the work was issued in January 2009, fielding 11 bids ranging from $1.7 million to $2.9 million. A contract was awarded to Surveillance Specialties for $1.9 million by the school board, with an additional $200,000 in corollary expenditures.

The Access Control System was to install alarms and monitors on exterior doors, locks for all doors, over 100 cameras with a centralized monitoring system, and a buzz-in intercom camera system at main entrances. Aged alarm systems were to be replaced, as 56 panic switches and 123 proximity card readers were to be installed.

The mayor's veto put the upgrades to rest until this November, when the school board voted to proceed with a revised $1.5 Access Control System, which could see completion before next school year.

But at Monday night's meeting, Superintendent Mark Conrad noted the widespread concern that the main entrances of the elementary schools are open during the school day. The board voted to expedite two parts of the Access Control System - buzz-in entrance systems and locks on classroom doors - apart from the remainder of the project, which could be carried out by a separate bidder.

The board will hold a special meeting Jan. 2 to take the next steps.

Board member Kim Muise said the board should revert to the plan as it stood in 2009.

"The first line of defense is to have the proper controls and protections at the front doors, so I urge people to support the security system in its whole," she said.

Fighting back tears, school board member Sandra Ziehm recalled a teacher at Sandy Hook school who hid her children in a bathroom and confronted the shooter.

"She put like 26 children in that room, and she stood in front of the door and she said the children were gone, and he killed her. I believe we have teachers like that in our district."

Ziehm referenced mental health as a component of school attacks.

"I believe it goes to a bigger problem than our schools. It goes to we're not taking care of the mental health problems of these (individuals)."

Board member Dennis Ryder expressed concern about turning the schools into fortresses, highlighting the call for gun control as a response to the epidemic of gun violence. "All across Europe, the rest of Western Civilization, guns are not possessed by citizens, and you do not get these tremendous amounts of killings."

"This is the most dangerous place in the world, and we need to do something about it where our kids are concerned," he said.

Member David Murotake questioned how school districts can enforce safety in schools given their status as gun-free safe zones.

"Do we have to resort to turning our schools into fortresses?," he said. "Even if we upgrade the security of our schools, can we protect our schools from all types of disasters like this one?"

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