Londonderry board to meet on school security
LONDONDERRY - The school board will hold a special meeting next week to discuss a $466,200 school safety warrant article.
Facilities Director Chuck Zappala said the article's goal is twofold: to restrict visitors' access beyond the front lobby areas before check-in and to facilitate quick communication between the police department and other schools.
Zappala said he's hoping a positive vote will allow for the purchase of two, two-way radios for each school; the installation of panic buttons to connect schools instantly to the Londonderry Police Department; the renovation of each school's main lobby so visitors don't have access beyond a secured vestibule area; the installation of a card-access system for building doors; and the installation of exterior door sensors around each school's perimeter.
The schools would also be outfitted with digital security cameras, and upgrades would be made on the facilities' sprinkler and fire alarm systems. If approved by voters in March, the security upgrades would be in full function by late August, Zappala said.
Capt. Gerald Dussault, division operations manager for the Londonderry Police Department, said the overall goal is to enhance communications while slowing down the progress of any potential intruder.
Police Chief William Hart said he'd also like to see threat assessments completed on the district's three elementary schools and kindergarten. A threat assessment was done at Londonderry High School in 2005 and at the middle school shortly after, police said.
"In 2005, the idea of having locked doors wasn't as important as it is now," Hart said.
While four of the district's schools are within walking distance to the police department, North and South elementary schools are a concern due to their less-centralized locations.
"Having a clear channel to police and fire in the community would be extremely helpful," Hart said. "We also need to train for those times when everyone is under stress. Being prepared is more than valuable."
According to local police, Londonderry's plan of action is similar to ones being taken by other Granite State towns.
"We're lucky here to have had very strong communications and a very committed trust-based relationship with schools. I think we've already taken steps to do things better due to that," he added.
School Board Chairman John LaFerriere asked which project was top priority. Dussault said "communications are critical" followed by tightened security in the front lobby. Business Administrator Peter Curro said those two projects account for "all but $75,000" of the proposed improvements on the warrant article. Hart agreed that enhanced communication is the top priority.
"Let's face the facts," he said. "We're struggling for security versus limited resources."
If passed by voters in March, the article would have a tax impact of 14 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value, Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said.
School Board Vice Chairman Nancy Hendricks worried about the high price tag and the possible repercussions of a negative vote.
"What happens then?" she asked.
School board member Leitha Reilly said the security issues have merit and will stand alone on the ballot, though she's still concerned about the dollar figure.
Greenberg suggested an amendment might be made during the deliberative session on Feb. 8 to fund the item in increments over the course of several years. Following a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to schedule a special school board meeting next week to discuss possible amendments.
"We've already set what we're sending to deliberative session, and we can't make any changes before then," board member Steve Young said. "But I like the idea of getting our information ready beforehand."
Voters at the March polls will also be asked to consider hiring an additional school resource officer at a cost of $101,000. If passed, that warrant article would represent a tax increase of 3 cents per thousand.
The Londonderry School Board will meet this Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.