NSMS improvements aimed at security, energy efficiency

NSMS improvements aimed at security, energy efficiency

North Smithfield Middle School received a full replacement of LED light fixtures, along with updated security cameras, over the holiday break. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – If you’re a student or a parent at North Smithfield Middle School, there’s a very good chance you didn’t notice anything different when you walked into school for the first time after the Christmas break.

That’s because the improvements that took place over the holidays, with both district staff and contractors working long hours to get the work done, involved the replacement of out-of-the-way equipment such as overhead lights and a security camera system. However, according to Supt. Michael St. Jean, the subtle upgrades will mean big changes for the district, not only in terms of cost savings, but also for student safety and health.

The first of those changes, a new security system, involved the replacement of three floors’ worth of security cameras with newer, better models. According to St. Jean, the new cameras are part of an overall security initiative that saw new cameras installed in the high school last year and scheduled for North Smithfield Elementary School in the near future.

“Certainly the need was there, but a lot of things come down to the budget. It’s very difficult, what price do you put on student safety?” he said.

While initial quotes for the new camera system came in around $40,000, the district’s Technology Department was able to complete the work in-house for $4,000 in hardware costs plus employee labor, less than a quarter of the price if the project had been contracted out. Technology Director Adam Stanley led the effort to get the system up and running before students returned. According to Stanley, the new cameras have a longer recording time and higher quality than previous models, making them more useful in issues of student safety as well as discipline.

“Student safety and security, that was really our push this year and our focus. With school shootings and that, it’s definitely been at the forefront of our minds,” said Stanley.

In addition to the cameras, district officials have worked to address student safety this year through a full risk assessment and the implementation of a new type of response training in the event of an active shooter situation. ALICE training – which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate – is gaining steam in schools around the country as an alternative to the “shelter in place” methods once taught to keep students safe. According to St. Jean, it teaches a broader array of options for how staff and students may respond in the event of an emergency situation.

“A lot of that is going to be individualized training depending on where they are in the building,” he explained.

St. Jean, along with NSHS Vice Principal Steven Boss and School Resource Officers Emmanuel Avila and Chrystal Lin-Cabral, received training in the ALICE method last year and plan to begin training district teachers and staff this spring. A full implementation is expected for next year, when teachers and staff will train students in the method.

“It’s an amazing and a disturbing program due to the nature of what we’re combatting,” he said.

In addition to the security improvements, NSMS saw a full replacement of existing light fixtures with new LED lights. The replacement was funded by a grant awarded by National Grid in 2017 with the goal of increasing energy efficiency. According to St. Jean, the new lighting will result in a monthly savings of $1,969 at the middle school – an annual savings of about $23,639 – the highest cost savings of any school building in the district. By comparison, a similar replacement ongoing at North Smithfield High School will result in a monthly savings of $1,232, or an annual savings of about $14,789.

“This is our newest building, but it draws twice the power than the much bigger high school,” St. Jean said.

Due to the timing and scale of the project, the NSMS replacement was completed over the holiday break by an outside company, costing the district a little over $100,000 in installation costs. An $80,000 grant from National Grid paid most of the cost of the lighting panels, while an additional $77,000 funded the new panels at NSHS. The NSHS installation is being completed over time by an in-house team under the direction of Facilities Director Alan Sepe.

“We’re trying in as many areas as possible not to contract out for services because we have a lot of talented people in house,” explained St. Jean.

According to St. Jean, NSES will also receive a full LED replacement in the future. The new lighting, he said, is designed to create a better environment for students and is better for student health, in addition to providing a cost savings.