Schools getting major security overhaul

Even before Oslo, Tucson and seemingly countless other tragic attacks around the globe, Kyrene administrators began planning ahead, no matter how remote such an event might seem at one of their district schools.

Thus was placed on the 2005 ballot and approved by voters a nearly $117 million bond issue designed, among other things, to strategically secure all 25 Kyrene campuses, starting with eight where potential risk seemed the highest.

“Our schools were built during an era when the focus was on being open and friendly,” said District Superintendent Dr. David Schauer. “But times have changed. Now it’s about safety and security, and we are taking steps to ensure that we are being proactive.”

One school, Sureño, was among the first to receive a security upgrade, and it proved valuable during a standoff between Chandler police and a gun-wielding man running through nearby neighborhoods and the parking lot at Chandler Fashion Center last Jan. 5.

Monitoring via security cameras, school officials were able to lock down the campus until the incident was resolved, at the same time the situation was being remotely viewed by the Kyrene district’s security team miles away.

Now, at schools such as Waggoner Elementary in south Tempe, an even more comprehensive security system is nearing the final stages of construction, following its ambitious launch eight weeks ago.

According to Schauer, the major concern at Waggoner was that classroom doors fed children directly into open areas or the school parking lot. When the current work is completed, students will have a secure environment with hallways that open to the school’s interior.

Hallways will connect detached buildings, and access to all campus structures will be controlled with specially coded ID badges.

“Our kids will never be outside (in case of potential risk),” Schauer said. “They’ll always be within our building.”

Lisa Gibson, who is principal at Waggoner, has been intimately involved in the project throughout its stages of development.

In a recent letter to residents of nearby neighborhoods, Gibson pledged as little disruption to the area as possible until the project is completed in September, about a month after classes resume on Aug. 8.

She noted that safety barricades and fencing have been installed to keep students and staff safe during the remainder of the work, and that construction crews will be supervised at all times.

As to funding for the project, Gibson said that despite the district’s urgent need for additional operational dollars, money being used for campus security enhancements was earmarked by voters only for purposes listed on the ballot and no others.

An informational meeting on the project is scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, in the school library.

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