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January 17. 2013 9:23PM

Nashua committee recommends $2.4 million bond for school security upgrades

NASHUA -- Several residents -- including three Board of Education members -- urged city officials on Thursday to support a proposed $2.4 million bond for massive security upgrades at all of the city's schools.
 
Sandra Ziehm, a member of the Nashua Board of Education, encouraged aldermen to base their decision on the city's children instead of making it a political issue.

"I implore you to think about the kids and do what is best," Ziehm said.

According to Ziehm, about 80 percent of the classrooms in Nashua schools do not currently have locks.

Following the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December that killed 20 students, Alderman-at-Large David Deane submitted a proposed resolution that would authorize a bond of up to $2.4 million to improve the school district's access control system -- a proposal that was initially introduced in 2009 but vetoed by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau because of a school budget deficit topping $3 million.

"I think that this bonding is, for several reasons, a really good step forward," Board of Education member Thomas Vaughan told the Board of Aldermen.

The proposed bond is intended to cover the costs of numerous recommendations included in the 2009 Comprehensive Security Assessment Report for the Nashua School District, a report conducted by W.L. Bliss Associates Inc. of Dedham, Mass. The upgrades -- if approved by the full Board of Aldermen -- would enable the installation of alarms and monitors on all exterior school doors, locks for all classroom doors, more than 100 cameras with a centralized monitoring system and a buzz-in intercom camera system at all main entrances. In addition, existing alarm systems will be replaced with 56 panic switches and 123 proximity card readers.

Some of the proposed improvements have already been approved by school officials using other funding sources, and could potentially be installed within the next few weeks.

Pamela Jordan, a parent of a second-grade student at Charlotte Avenue School, broke down in tears pleading with city officials to support the proposed bond for security upgrades.

"We wanted our daughter to have a safe place to go to school," said Jordan, noting the reason for her family's move to Nashua.

Only one individual -- a teacher at Nashua High School South -- spoke in opposition of the bond. With his own children enrolled in the Nashua School District, Neil Claffey said he has never worried or feared for their safety.

"If someone wanted to do the unspeakable at our school, they could," warned Claffey, suggesting that the threats at city schools come from within. Special Columbine locks will not prevent a student from walking into a school with a gun in their backpack, he explained.

A child is more likely to die from suicide than a school tragedy, according to Claffey, who said investing money to help struggling students may be more beneficial.

" … To be honest, this is creating an illusion of safety," he said, adding the placement of an armed guard or a metal detector at school entrances may be more helpful than the recommended security upgrades.

While Mayor Donnalee Lozeau supports the school security improvements, she suggested in a memo to aldermen that instead of bonding the upgrades, it should be paid with money from the school district's capital reserve fund.
Kimberly Muise, Board of Education member, argued that there is not enough money in the reserve account to pay for the numerous security upgrades and several other important school projects.

"I don't think the wise decision is to drain that account," Muise told aldermen. "Our citizens need to be protected. Our children need to be protected."

Alderman Mark Cookson said that although the proposal is not complete, it is a good solution that will make students safer.

"We should do it with immediacy," added Cookson.

The aldermanic Budget Review Committee unanimously recommended passage of the bond, which will now go before the full Board of Aldermen for a final vote.


khoughton@newstote.com


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