Security upgrades part of plan approved by Salem Board of Education

Salem - The Board of Education on Tuesday approved a $429,945 capital plan for the 2014-2015 budget year, the bulk of which would be used for security upgrades.

The 2014-2015 budget was approved as part of a long-range capital plan that includes building upgrades such as roof replacements and lighting upgrades for the next 10 years. The plan will need to be approved by the Board of Finance before being included in the town's budget.

Superintendent Joseph Onofrio said he understands that the Board of Finance might not want to approve the entire $340,300 worth of security upgrades and may prefer to wait to see if the school district can secure some security grants from the state.

He called the 14 suggested security upgrades "conversation points" for the school board's presentation to the Board of Finance. He listed the upgrades-alongside $5,000 for training and consultation-in order of "suggested priority" in the capital plan.

Lockdown keys for one of the school's wings, 20 additional portable radios, and a video surveillance expansion and upgrade topped the superintendent's priority list.

Items lower on the list included a panic button and lockdown system, a door status notification system, an access control system upgrade and an background check system. The lowest-ranked purchase is body armor, which would be used if a school official needed to accompany emergency personnel into the school in the event of a shooting.

Onofrio said the suggested upgrades are the latest part of an effort to determine security priorities for the school after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Emergency management officials, the school's Director of Facilities Don Bourdeau, Board of Education Chairman Steven Buck and the school district administration have been part of an ongoing conversation on the topic, said the superintendent.

Mark Choquette of Sonitrol New England, a company that provides security services, answered school board members' questions about the security upgrades at Tuesday's meeting.

Choquette was able to provide details about some of the lower-priority security upgrades the board members weren't familiar with. The panic button, he said, works similar to a fire alarm and can alert local dispatchers if pulled. The ID scanner would be located near the entrance to the building and would require visitors to scan their driver's license, which could then be checked against a variety of databases, such as the sex offender register.

By including several possible upgrades, include less common items like the ID scanner and body armor, Onofrio said he is hoping to start a discussion of how far the school system should go in its emergency preparation.

The public needs to decide, he explained, how far Salem can go to be secure while still being welcoming and retaining a small-town school atmosphere.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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