By Joseph Cyr
HOULTON — In an effort to increase school safety, Houlton Elementary and Southside schools have now become more secure, thanks to a federal grant.
RSU 29 recently received a $5,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to increase security at the two schools. According to Vernon Ouellette, director of the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, the money given to the district came from unspent funds for fiscal year 2011 and specifically set aside for school security.
“The amount set aside was right around $400,000, of which the Maine Emergency Management Agency received requests totaling $1.2 million,” Ouellette said. “The schools had to apply for the grant and have until the middle of July to finalize the project. Eight schools from the County applied and six were awarded the same type of grant.
Aroostook County received a total of $28,000.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newport, R.I. late last year, the district eyed increasing security at both Houlton Elementary and Houlton Southside schools because neither building had a functioning security system.
The doors to both schools were often left unlocked, allowing anyone to enter the building.
Both school have since installed a buzzer system and have video cameras in place so that school staff can see who is attempting to gain access to the building.
“The award RSU 29 received is to install a remote entry security for their front door,” Ouellette explained. “Typically unlocked while the students enter and exit in the morning and afternoon and locked down during the day. It works with a buzzer at the front door that has a camera focused on the person requesting to enter which is viewed by a secretary that sits near that entrance, the secretary can than allow or deny access as appropriate, the secretary as well as a monitor to view who is requesting access.”
Houlton Southside School Principal Tiffany Karnes announced on the district’s Facebook page that as of May 6, all doors at the school will be locked between the hours of 8:10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
“This will now include our front entrance,” she wrote. “If you arrive at school after 8 a.m. you will need to ring the buzzer located on the wall to the left of the front doors. Someone from the office will respond by asking you to state your name and the purpose for your visit. The door will then be released from the inside.”
A similar system was installed at Houlton Elementary School.
Once inside of the building, the visitors will need to report to the office immediately. Karnes also asked parents and visitors to be patient as the new system gets all of the kinks worked out.
“Keep this new policy in mind as you are arriving at school to dismiss your student,” Karnes wrote. “More time may be required, so please leave yourself some extra time between pickup and your child’s appointment. Remember, while this may take more time on your part, we are doing this to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
Houlton Junior-Senior High School is now the only school without automated door locks. However, there are numerous video cameras located outside the main entrance of the school. The district is continuing to explore ways it could install automated door locks on this building.