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Clayton Schools ready to start security upgrade

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County school officials are scheduled to ask the Clayton County Board of Education for approval of a total of $540,700 in contracts for security upgrades at four elementary schools, and one primary school, next week, according to documents presented to board members on Monday.

The security upgrades are designed to significantly reduce the access people planning to do harm to students will have to the schools, according to School System Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson. He said upgrades include the installation of video cameras, security-card access systems, and the erection of walls to keep visitors out of classroom hallways without first going through the schools' front offices.

Funding for the upgrades was included as part of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax IV, that was approved by Clayton County voters last September, and Jackson said every school will eventually receive them.

On Monday, Jackson will ask the school board to approve five separate contracts for Austell-based Beatty Construction Company to perform the first security upgrades, at Hawthorne, Hendrix Drive, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall elementary schools, as well as at Kemp Primary School.

"These upgrades will give us controlled access to our schools, because right now, anybody can walk into our schools and have access to the classrooms," Jackson said. "Our goal is to create a safe educational environment for the children to learn in."

If the school board approves the contracts at its May 3 business meeting, construction work related to the upgrades will begin soon thereafter, likely a week after the board meeting, Jackson said. The upgrades are scheduled to be completed by the time students return to school in August, he said.

"If the board approves the contracts, then, I'll have the superintendent and [school] board chair sign them Monday night, and then, on Tuesday, I'll give them to my people, and the contractor will be able to begin right away," Jackson said.

The contracts will be for $126,900 at Hawthorne Elementary School; $104,100 at Hendrix Drive Elementary School; $105,800 at Martin Luther King, Jr.; $100,100 at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, and $103,800 at Kemp Primary School, according to copies of the executive summaries provided to school board members last Monday.

Bid tabulation forms that were also provided show that Beatty Construction Company was the lowest bidder for each school.

The bid for Hawthorne is higher than those for the other schools because the door to the school's front office would have to be moved to accommodate one of the key features of the security upgrades -- controlled access to the building from the front office.

Jackson explained that the schools have small, open lobby areas that visitors enter, and where display cases and front offices are located. In many newer schools, these lobbies resemble short, wide hallways that visitors walk down before turning, either left or right, and walking down corridors where classrooms are located.

The chief operations officer said walls with locked doors in them will be added at the end of the short entry hallways. The only way to get through the door is for the secretary in the front office to "buzz" the person in by pushing a button that temporarily unlocks the door until it is opened and re-closed. The hallway would be transformed into a "true foyer" as a result, according to Jackson.

"The visitor would have to go to the front office, tell the person working at the front desk why they are at the school, show that person their identification and receive a visitors pass before they would be allowed to enter the rest of the building," Jackson said.

Cameras will be installed at all exterior entrances, and the infrastructure will also be installed to eventually add cameras throughout the interior of the schools, the chief operations officer said.

School administrators, teachers and other staff members would have access cards that they can swipe through a card reader to get into a school, according to Jackson.

The front door of a school, and the doors that face the bus lanes would be unlocked before the school day begins, and after it ends, so children can get into the school, he said.

"Teachers are stationed at these areas during those times, anyway, so they will be monitoring who is coming and going into the school," Jackson said. As soon as the school day begins, however, those doors will be set to automatically lock themselves, he said.