Smithfield seeks school safety upgrades

Smithfield seeks school safety upgrades

Smithfield High School sophomore Tori Richard spoke about student safety at the governor’s announcement to invest $10 million into school safety. Days prior to the announcement, Smithfield schools Supt. Judy Paolucci applied for $450,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice for safety improvements. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, freshman Tori Richard and her best friend moved their seats at Smithfield High School closer to the classroom closet, and tried to picture how many students would fit inside.

The pair wondered how long it would take for them to run to the windows and jump out to safety if an active shooter situation transpired in their school.

At 15 years old, rising sophomore Richard represents the student voice and perspective in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Gun Safety Task Force, created to study the state’s gun laws and recommend reform.

“It’s a scary time to be a student,” she said. “When the news shows pictures of children hiding in classrooms with desks and textbooks that look all too similar to my own, it’s very hard to go back to school the next day and not let your mind wander.”

She said her generation is growing up in a different world, a world where school shootings are becoming more frequent. Now old enough to “truly grasp the horrors of these events,” she said, it is great to see Rhode Island leaders recognize that schools need to be safer.

“These are thoughts that go through students’ heads now, all over the country,” she said. “No one should be afraid for their lives in their own school, a place where we’re supposed to learn and thrive and achieve.”

During an Aug. 1 announcement at Asa Messer Elementary School in Providence, Richard introduced Raimondo, who said the state will make $10 million in funding immediately available to schools to complete safety and security upgrades to buildings.

“No parents should have to worry that their child’s school doesn’t have the proper safeguards in place, and school shouldn’t have to wait to make simple upgrades,” Raimondo said.

Richard said she feels relatively safe in the high school with upgraded camera systems, but said there are some safety issues that could still be addressed.

Supt. Judy Paolucci is tackling those issues, and on July 30, she submitted a grant to the U.S. Department of Justice for more than $450,000 through the School Violence Prevention Project.

The district will not find out if it will receive the “highly competitive” grant until Sept. 30. If the grant falls through, Paolucci said the district will seek state funding.

“We would certainly request funding, since our facilities needs are so great and contribute to safety and security issues,” she said.

The School Violence Prevention Project includes holding areas for the high school and middle school’s entrances at an estimated cost of $260,000. Each double-door entry system will allow administrative staff to screen guests or vendors outside the building, who would then pass through an outer entryway before being buzzed into the building.

Similar vestibules for the elementary schools are included in renovations for the proposed $45 million Elementary School Reconfiguration bond on the November ballot.

Funding for the district emergency operation team to conduct a school security and safety assessment to identify “potential vulnerabilities as well as strengths” is incorporated into the requested DOJ grant at an estimated $35,000. The assessment will look at access points to each school campus, perimeter access control, visitor screening procedures, security camera and alarm systems, interior access control, student supervision and school climate, bullying abatement strategies, anti-terrorism measures, written policies, plans and procedures compared to actual practice, and preparedness.

Additionally, plans include a district-wide access control system, which monitors access and replaces keyed entry with access cards. Paolucci said benefits to the system include limiting access to different types of staff for different parts of the day or days of the week, and also keeping track of who entered in case of an issue or incident.

Cost for equipment and technology, including installation, for each school’s access control system are:

• Smithfield High School – $53,750 for six external access doors;

• Gallagher Middle School – $49,000 for four external access doors;

• McCabe Elementary School – $51,500 for five external access doors;

• Old County Road Elementary – $51,500 for five external access doors;

• Winsor Elementary - $49,000 for four external access doors;

• And LaPerche Elementary - $51,500 for five external access doors.

Richard said the intercome system is noticeably old and outdated. Paolucci said the system should be assessed and compared to newer systems. She said she will meet with Town Manager Randy Rossi this week to discuss this and other priority projects that may fit the state school safety funding criteria.