Tallmadge -- The Tallmadge City School District is moving forward with preliminary plans to create secure vestibules at Dunbar Primary and Munroe Elementary schools.
During a work session March 6, the Board of Education supported the school district administration's proposal that also includes moving the school offices to the front of the buildings near the vestibules so that key personnel can better monitor visitors while they are inside and out.
Although the Board members in attendance reached a consensus, none commented at length about the project during the meeting. Board Vice President Brad Croskey was absent.
The estimated cost to build both vestibules and re-arrange the floor plans is $285,000. Money from the district's permanent improvement fund will be used to pay for the project.
School officials plan to start the construction at the beginning of summer break and finish it before the start of the 2013-14 school year.
"We'll get the serious drawings going now, which will be the next step. We'll get the designs finalized and get accurate costs," Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said.
The updated plans for both buildings call for minor changes that don't change the overall intent of the project. Windows along the front of Munroe will be added allowing staff to see outside the building. Dunbar already has windows along its front.
The vestibule at 51-year-old Munroe will be built by installing a wall of new, locked inner doors. Visitors will only be able to enter the building during the school day through the staffed front office.
New exterior doors will be installed at Dunbar, a 64-year-old building, and the existing locked exterior doors will become the interior doors of the vestibule. Just as at Munroe, visitors would only be permitted to enter through the office during the school day.
The plans for the new layouts of the buildings focus on repurposing space and don't include major new construction.
"I think we have a good balance with the new and old, and by limiting demolition, we can get it done," said John Wheeler, of Wheeler Boltz Architects, of Akron, the architect the school district is working with on the project.
Staff at each school use surveillance from remote office locations to determine whether to buzz in visitors. The secure vestibules will provide one access point to the buildings, of which staff will have more control. In the event of a problem, the vestibules allow staff more time to observe visitors and react, if necessary.
Ferguson said professionals in the education industry who talk about school safety are saying school districts can only do so much. He said the design of the vestibules and new layouts of the buildings will enhance safety for students and staff but won't be able to ward it off threats completely.
Part of the problem is that some school districts' attempts at securing school buildings have conflicted with local fire codes, he said.
"It's impossible to create an impenetrable force and be a school," Ferguson said. "What we've got to do is control the access, slow the access ..." He said this will "buy time" so that staff can call for help.
According to Wheeler, the school district has the option to waive the formal bidding process that state law typically requires for large school projects because this project is being done to increase safety. This option will expedite the construction process so the work can be done before next school year.
Although the formal bidding process can be waived, Ferguson said Director of Business Steve Wood, who was absent during the work session, can solicit bids, and Wheeler can help the administration review them to ensure the district gets good quality of work and a good price at the same time.
Tallmadge High and Middle schools already have secure vestibules and layouts that are designed to enhance security.