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Published January 21, 2014, 10:21 PM

Secure entry systems to be added to all Fargo elementary, middle schools

FARGO – It was cold, with a stiff wind and snow out of the south Tuesday, as a heavily bundled Roxane Meidinger pressed a button just outside the northwest entry to Roosevelt Elementary School.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

FARGO – It was cold, with a stiff wind and snow out of the south Tuesday, as a heavily bundled Roxane Meidinger pressed a button just outside the northwest entry to Roosevelt Elementary School.

Meidinger was buzzed into the school almost immediately, but the Roosevelt mom said she would have put up with waiting a few minutes for the extra safety Roosevelt’s security system provides for her son and other children.

“I’m glad they have it,” Meidinger said. “It keeps everybody safe. We’re a small school, but things can happen anywhere.”

Roosevelt has had a controlled access entry for about a year, with Longfellow and nearby Horace Mann elementary schools adding the systems last fall in a test designed to provide more protection for Fargo’s public schools.

The feedback from the experiment has been so good that Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Tuesday that the systems, which include cameras, intercoms and electronic locks, will be installed in all of the district’s elementary and middle schools in coming weeks.

Schatz estimates it will cost $2,000 per school to get the systems installed, perhaps $30,000 overall.

“It definitely gives you an indication of who’s at the door. It’s just that next step of providing that next layer of security,” Schatz said. “I like what we’re doing with this.”

Once someone is allowed access, they must then go to the school’s main office to sign in.

Schatz said the December 2012 mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., put a new focus on elementary school security.

The North Dakota Legislature not long after agreed to set aside $3 million in school district safety grants for the 2013-15 biennium.

The money can be used to buy, install and maintain alarms, cameras, electronic door locks, emergency response call buttons, intercom systems, key or pass cards, metal detectors and other safety equipment.

School districts need to provide matching funds to access the state dollars.

Schatz said the Fargo School District is eligible for about $325,000 under the state program. He said district staff members are looking to see if camera systems should be updated. Schools are also being studied to determine if entrances can be reconfigured to funnel parents and other visitors through the main offices.

Kim Colwell, principal of the paired Roosevelt and Horace Mann schools, said PTA members are on board with adding the security systems, even knowing there might be times they might have to wait while office personnel handle other problems.

Colwell said the system won’t stop a determined assault on the school but should give staff time to call 911.

“It really makes us aware of who walks in the building and that they are in our building,” he said.

The older schools are designed with offices in the center of the building. Colwell said in years past, someone could enter Roosevelt and be on the third floor without anyone in the office having a clue.

Installation of the security system last year allowed Roosevelt staff to deny access to a person who appeared to be an intoxicated transient, Colwell said.

“It’s a great deal. Just another level of security,” Colwell said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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