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Schools receive security grants

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Two area school systems will receive state grants to help fund safety and security improvements, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Tuesday.

The Martinsville schools will get $79,408 to install emergency notification equipment at Martinsville High School, Martinsville Middle School and Patrick Henry and Albert Harris elementary schools, according to a release from the governor’s office.

Patrick County Schools will get $92,668 toward improvements planned at Patrick County High School, Hardin Reynolds Memorial School and Stuart and Woolwine elementary schools, the release showed.

Both systems must contribute a 25 percent local match to the state funds, the release said.

A School Security Equipment Grant program established earlier this year by the General Assembly is the source of the state money, the release stated.

The Henry County Schools did not apply for a grant, Superintendent Jared Cotton said.

The Martinsville School Division will use its grant to install a new internal emergency communications system, according to Superintendent Pam Heath.

Equipment to be purchased includes:

• Upgraded radios with keypads that school officials and student resource officers can use to make emergency announcements from anywhere on the campuses, including outside buildings,

• Wireless public address speakers with radio receivers that will be placed throughout schools so emergency announcements can be heard,

• Repeaters to amplify the radio signals and remove “dead spots” — places where signals cannot reach — in schools,

• Equipment to receive severe weather alerts, and

• A telephone interconnect so an emergency phone number at each school can be dialed from any phone directly into that school’s radio system. Heath said that should enable mass emergency notifications to go out quickly, as well as allow all radios to monitor the announcements.

With the additional radios funded by the grant, existing two-way radios at schools can be distributed to more teachers, which will improve coverage in the schools, Heath said.

T.J. Slaughter, the city schools’ director of school safety and emergency management, said the system is similar to one recently installed at Patrick Henry Community College. He believes Martinsville will be the state’s first public school system to have the technology.

Every second counts in any type of emergency, he said.

“I’m looking at how we can shave minutes and seconds off (response) until public safety personnel arrive to assist,” Slaughter said. “In a weather situation, like a severe thunderstorm or tornado, having that instant notification can make a real difference.”

School administrators have had to go to the main office to make a school-wide announcement. With the new system, they will be able to notify staff members and students from wherever they are in a building, he added.

Communications systems that the city schools traditionally have used, such as landline phones and old-style speakers, need electricity to function. During power failures, mass notifications have not been possible, Slaughter said.

Heath said the planned improvements follow other security and safety improvements recently made in Martinsville schools. Those include electronic access control systems, funded by a federal grant; renovations to improve entrance control and visibility at the high school; and the hiring of a resource officer for Albert Harris, which was funded by another state grant.

“The safety of our students is always our No. 1 priority,” Heath said. “That’s why we have been so proactive in pursuing grant funds, as they provide us the means to continually enhance the safety and security of our buildings.”

Dean Gilbert, assistant superintendent of the Patrick County Schools, said the grant money will be used to make public address system improvements and install surveillance equipment and “single door access kits” at affected schools.

The access kits basically are systems that require people going through doors to be “buzzed in” by school personnel, Gilbert said.

At the Henry County Schools, “we’ve been very proactive” in making safety and security improvements already, Cotton said, citing new entry restriction and radio equipment as examples.

That is why the school system determined it did not need to apply for a grant this time around, he said.

The 2013 Appropriation Act will provide a second round of School Security Equipment Grants for which school systems can apply next summer. Cotton said the Henry County Schools might apply for funds then if it is determined that more safety and security improvements are needed.

Referring to that act, McDonnell said in the release that he “can think of no more important legislative accomplishment than this investment in the safety and security of our students, teachers, principals and other ... employees.”

In the release, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said criteria for awarding grants this year gave priority to schools that lack modern security equipment, schools with large numbers of security disruptions, older schools and ones in systems that are least able to afford improvements.


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