Elkhart Community Schools closes exposed student spaces, installs new locks with referendum money

The school district is using part of its $47,000,000 in referendum money to make its buildings safer. Here’s what will change at the schools over the summer. 

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 8:27 a.m.

Elkhart Community Schools is spending part of the $47 million gained through May’s referendum on safety upgrades to school buildings.

The district already changed school start and end times and bus routes using additional transportation funds made available through the referendum. 

Safety-related construction is happening now and will continue over the next several months and years. 

Building services directer Tony Gianesi said the district is paying to undo many educational philosophies once thought to be a good idea — like open concept classrooms.

These days, everyone wants students behind closed doors — doors that can be quickly and easily locked if an intruder enters the building.

Gianesi called figuring out safety one of the hardest things any school district has to do. Schools need to be safe, he said, but they shouldn't feel like prisons for students or students’ parents. 

Closing open spaces

One large project — enclosing Memorial High School’s open-concept cafeteria — started in early July and will be completed in early August, according to Gianesi. 

The new walled-in cafeteria will make it possible for students to shelter in place in case of an emergency, and the eight sets of double doors can be easily locked from the inside, he said. 

Another change coming to Memorial is new front entryway doors that will force visitors to check in at the office before continuing into the school. 

That construction work will likely not be finished before school starts, Gianesi said. 

The offices at four schools — Beardsley, Pinewood, Woodland and West Side — will be reconstructed in the front of the building, so visitors must pass through the office before going anywhere else in the building. 

Those offices now are located further inside the school, and it would be simple for a visitor who didn't want to stop by the office to just bypass it and continue on to a classroom or another area, Gianesi said. 

Construction on those offices will start in November and could be completed in July 2015. 

Better locks

Columbine locks are being installed on every classroom door in every Elkhart Community Schools building. 

These locks, designed for schools after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, can be locked from the inside with a key. 

Previously, teachers had to step outside their rooms into the hallway in order to lock their doors, potentially making themselves and their students vulnerable in an emergency situation. 

This concern is something that’s really only been an issue in the past decade or so, Gianesi commented. 

"Society didn't always worry about a teacher stepping into the hallway to lock a door — because they did it at the end of the day, when they went home,“ Gianesi pointed out. 

Now, during school lock downs teachers need the ability to quickly secure their classrooms.

The new locks cost about $100 each, including parts and labor. 

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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