Price of safer schools?

After much discussion and debate last month, the Seymour Community School Corp. board of trustees has approved the purchase and installation of surveillance systems for three schools.

Originally, the request was just for Emerson Elementary at a cost of $46,322. There were concerns from staff, administrators and school safety officials that without a working surveillance system in place, the school was at a greater risk for potential safety and security issues.

But after learning two other buildings, Seymour-Jackson Elementary and the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, also were without working surveillance systems, the board requested quotes be sought to equip all three schools with new systems at the same time, increasing the cost to $125,960.

The new systems provide cameras at key locations both inside and outside the buildings and can be accessed remotely by the Seymour Police Department to increase safety for students and teachers and allow for more effective response in the event of an emergency situation. The cameras allow staff to zoom in close on a particular area or provide wide angle shots to capture an entire hallway, room or parking lot.

They also record and store 30 days worth of footage, which can then be transferred to a CD or flash drive to be used by police or the school as evidence.

The district plans on applying for a $50,000 school safety grant this year from the state, which will cover the cost of Emerson’s system. The other two systems will be paid for through the district’s capital projects fund.

Dave Stark, director of facilities and grounds, said the corporation started upgrading surveillance camera systems at Seymour High School three or four years ago, by purchasing and installing an Avigilon system. It was chosen because it was easy to use and navigate, and it met legal requirements for facial recognition if such evidence was needed in court, Stark said.

The Avigilon system is the same one used by the Seymour Police Department and Schneck Medical Center, Stark added.

“We are in the process of taking that same system corporation wide, so that we can use the same vendor for service and parts and just for familiarity with our staff,” he said. “We have the high school up and running and are working on the middle school. And as funds become available we are trying to upgrade the other schools.”

Scott Gray, corporation maintenance director and safety specialist, said the system is now in place at five school buildings and the administration office.

He said the benefits of having the Avigilon system at all the schools is the ease with which school personnel can access all cameras at one time from any computer with the proper software installed.

It also allows SPD to access the cameras from the police station, which will give officers an idea of what is going on inside and around a school, in the event of an active shooter or some other emergency.

Had the system been in place, it could have been utilized in December when a false active shooter alarm went off at the sixth grade center. Without “eyes” in and around the school, police officers had to respond without knowing what was going on.

“All we get is a recorded message saying that there is an active shooter,” school resource officer Keith Williams said. “What we are trying to do is develop this to be a system where the police department can access that school and look inside before the officers even get there. If dispatch is able to access this system, then they can get pertinent information to the officers before they even get inside the building. We need that information.”

Williams said he uses the surveillance system at the high school daily.

Trustee Max Klosterman said he didn’t understand why a security system wasn’t added at Emerson during a building addition and renovation project that was completed in early January 2014.

He said instead of buying new furniture for the school, he would have rather seen the money be spent on a security system.

Stark said at that time the school had different priorities for the project. He also didn’t think there was enough money left in the project budget to cover the cost of the security system.

“This should have been a priority,” Klosterman said. “Surveillance and safety at our schools is a big thing.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.