West Virgnina school district implements access card system

Aug. 14, 2008
Teachers, administrators required to use 'swipe cards'

Entering a school in Kanawha County will no longer be a simple matter of pushing or pulling on a door.

By December, doors on all 72 schools and some bus garages across the county will be equipped with electronic access devices designed to keep out unwanted visitors.

"We're trying to improve the security of our children in light of recent events," said Terry Hollandsworth, director of maintenance. "It's just the right thing to do."

To enter any exterior door on any school building, teachers and principals will be required to swipe a card.

Glenwood, a year-round school, is already using the system.

Principal Johnny Ferrara starts the day by greeting students as they arrive. The front doors are open as he stands just outside, but afterward the doors are locked and anyone else who wishes to enter has to use the security system.

Procedures for operating the system at various sites are still being worked out.

At Glenwood, for example, doors are not unlocked at any time of day, not even in the mornings. Officials are not sure how this will work at other schools.

"Some schools will stay locked all the time and you'll have to use your name badge," Hollandsworth said. "Some schools have a unique curriculum. We'll have to study it a little more. Those are decisions yet to be made."

At some schools, doors may be unlocked during student arrival times. Schools with more complex schedules may opt to issue swipe cards to students. Anyone can exit a building without a card.

Getting systems up and running in schools is no easy task. After the devices are mounted, teachers and school personnel have to be trained to use them.

"It's a very big project," said Chuck Wilson, director of facilities and planning for Kanawha County Schools.

The new locks at Glenwood and five other schools are operating. They include Piedmont, Chandler, J.E. Robins and Overbrook elementaries and Horace Mann Middle. The school system's maintenance facility at Crede also has the system in place.

The equipment has been installed at 20 more schools, but staffs are not yet trained. The system should be installed and operating at all schools by December, Wilson said.

Mason & Berry Inc. of St. Albans is providing the equipment, which is made by Andover Controls, and installing it.

On a recent day at Glenwood, Ferrara demonstrated from his office how the system worked as some students approached the door.

To capture the view of the camera mounted outside the school's front door, Ferrara plugged what looked like a flash drive into his computer. This enables it to wirelessly connect to the camera and produce the image on a website. Each school will have two of those devices.

A small screen popped up with a clear image of the students at the door.

Under the screen were two options. Ferrara could choose to unlock the door or even to actually open the door if the person was handicapped.

A speaker allows him to address visitors he doesn't recognize before admitting them.

All camera footage is documented with a date and time so if any problems should arise, school or even law enforcement officials can know exactly when it occurred.

"It's a very sophisticated, yet simple system," Ferrara said.

The system was funded with Kanawha County's $1 million share of money the governor allotted to school systems for safety, Wilson said. Another $500,000 came from local funds.

Kanawha County officials have been contacted by officials from several other counties interested in such a system, but they know of no one else in the state who already has installed it.

Ferrara is pleased with how the system is working at his school so far.

"It makes us feel very safe," he said. "It's just a good system."

Wilson echoed that sentiment.

"In the end, we should have secure buildings, and children should feel safer," he said.

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