School Security Starts with the Blueprints

Oct. 8--LIMA -- New school buildings around the region are allowing schools to be more secure than in the past, but officials still know there are risks.

"No matter how much security you have, if someone wants to do something, they can," Ottoville schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz said. "But our setup is about as good as you can get."

Security at schools has come to the forefront again with three school shootings occurring in the past two weeks. Local districts that have built new buildings in the last few years have made changes to make the buildings more secure.

At the Ottoville building, like at most new schools, there is only one door unlocked for people to enter. That entrance goes right into a main office, where people are required to check in. It would be difficult for anyone to get through the area without being seen.

"It is absolutely more secure," Amstutz said of the building, which opened in 2003. "At the old building, you could have come in any one of a dozen doors in a day."

The new Lima school buildings also have single entries that lead into main offices. The buildings also have cameras both inside and outside the buildings. Assistant Superintendent Jill Ackerman said there are about 25 cameras in the high school alone. Staff in the main office can watch a screen to view what is going on. The Lima Police are also able to view the live video.

Ackerman said the school has a close relationship with the Police and Fire departments. They have floor plans of the buildings and master keys if they need to gain entry. District officials meet with the police monthly.

All staff members also wear photo identification badges and anyone entering the buildings is given a badge.

"That way kids and staff know that they are there for school business," Ackerman said. A school security council made up of staff developed the badge policy. "We take them very seriously."

Some school officials are looking forward to new buildings in the future. A new Spencerville building will open in January, with an entrance much like Ottoville has.

"Right now we have very little in the way of security in our buildings, but that will indeed change," Superintendent Joel Hatfield said.

Hatfield added that the staffs at the schools are quick to stop people they see in the school and don't recognize, finding out who they are and why they are there.

Elida schools Superintendent Don Diglia said the security is another reason why the district needs new buildings. The district is on the ballot next month for a new high school. The proposed new building would be like others in the area with one entrance.

"It is very difficult to secure our buildings now," Diglia said, saying that pupils now leave the buildings to go to modular buildings or to the fieldhouse for high school physical education. "It's impossible to keep the doors locked at all times."

A bill signed by Gov. Bob Taft in June requires school boards to adopt comprehensive school safety plans for each school building. Local schools have worked with law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop those plans.

The law also requires schools to run practice lockdown drills for dealing with serious threats or emergencies. Schools have to do a drill by April this school year, and before December every following year.

New Bremen schools Superintendent Ann Harvey said the district periodically looks at its plan, in which the police and fire took a part in developing. She said they are both familiar with the building. The district's next school newsletter will include information about the plan.

"I feel like we live in a safe community," Harvey said. "However, it is important to have a plan in place and for people to know it and to be vigilant."

Copyright (c) 2006, The Lima News, Ohio Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.