NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The school district is requesting grant money to better secure three school entrances as part of the county’s ongoing school safety efforts.
The district applied for a $500,000 federal School Violence Prevention Program grant, which allocates funds to evidence-based safety programs and technology. The money would be used to construct security vestibules at the entrances to New Hanover High School, the International School at Gregory and Roland-Grise Middle School.
The school system has identified improvements to school entrances as part of TruNorth Consulting’s school risk assessment analysis in 2019. The study is not available to the public.
Constructing vestibules, or lobbies separating school hallways from exterior doors, are one of the suggestions.
The security vestibules are part of a larger effort to enhance school safety as informed by the risk analysis. Assistant Superintendent of Operation Eddie Anderson explained the first step was to make sure all exterior doors were locked to outsiders. The second step is to better control access to the building.
“Think of it like a two-step-verification process, except there are three steps,” Anderson said.
To enter the school, visitors have to be buzzed in by administration, which is already being done by school staff.
The vestibules would add a second step, essentially creating a holding area for the visitor.
“At that point, you don’t have access to anything but to get back out of the building,” Anderson said.
From there, visitors can speak to administrators and a receptionist can assess the visitor. School staff can also assist the person, who will remain located in the vestibule, without granting them access to the building.
If an individual needs to enter the building, staff will buzz them in and direct them to administration areas to issue a pass.
If awarded the grant, New Hanover County Schools would pay their share — a 25% match — from the $1 million set aside in this year’s capital projects budget.
Earlier this year, the county allocated around $800,000 to hire 20 community resource coordinators and four resource officers in New Hanover County schools. The money was part of the county’s $3.6-million anti-violence efforts. Anderson said the county has designated $1 million dollars in capital projects every year for the last three years to construct the school vestibules.
The district enlisted the help of commissioner chair Julia Olsen-Boseman to apply for the School Violence Prevention Program grant, overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Olsen-Boseman signed off on a letter of support on June 17:
“The impact of safety in our schools creates a more stable and wholesome environment in which our students learn and grow, fueling the long-term betterment of our community,” she wrote. “Therefore, we support the district’s mission to incorporate up-to-date security protocols, equipment, and technology as a crucial component of overall school safety and security efforts.”
Construction is already underway on some school entrances — Rachel Freeman School of Engineering, Lake Forest Elementary, Williston Middle School and J.C. Roe Center. It is being funded by money allocated in previous years.
The average cost to construct each vestibule is $400,000, but the number varies depending on the school with older buildings requiring more extensive updates.
The three schools that would be covered by the grant were next in line for vestibule assembly due to the assessment’s prioritization based on crime history in their area.
“The crime risk analysis and prioritization of schools is based in part on a CRIMECAST report from the CAP Index, Inc. This report provides data and information pertaining to local crime in the area, and assists TrueNorth in establishing a level of risk for each NHCS property,” Anderson said. “This information along with the consultants own risk vulnerability assessment was used to prioritize a scope of work and school location to begin the implementation of their recommendations.”
The grant would allow the district to designate more local funding for different schools further down the list, according to Anderson. He hopes to extend security measures beyond buildings to the school area as a whole.
“There’s an opportunity to make our sites more secure and consistent as far as parking, signage and traffic flow,” Anderson said.
He also said the county was working toward improving communication and alert systems with the goal of eventually integrating the systems so administrators could respond to emergencies in one step rather than multiple.
Anderson said it could be two or three months before they hear about the grant, but the vestibules will continue to move forward nevertheless.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com