Schools tighten security over spring break

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake Central School District has implemented new security measures in the wake of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and additional precautions will be in place at some school buildings when students and staff return from spring break next month.

Locking more doors, installing new swipe-card security systems and video cameras, and staff training are some of the measures that are planned or have already been implemented.

“Some of the stuff is pretty common sense,” said Superintendent Gerald Goldman. “We’re funneling everybody through one entrance, making sure all the other doors are locked. Some of it is just taking a renewed emphasis with our own employees to not leave a door open. We’re putting some cameras in strategic places, new card readers, and trying to make the high school, especially, a little more secure. Bloomingdale is certainly a lot more secure.”

Goldman estimated the total cost of the security upgrades at all the district’s buildings at $25,000 to $30,000.

At the high school, Principal Bruce Van Weelden said some stop-gap security measures were implemented while waiting for a more permanent solution, the swipe cards, to be installed over the two-week spring break, which began Friday.

“What we’re doing right now is, we’ve actually locked up the upper (parking) lot entrance around 7:45 a.m. to 8 a.m., so all of our staff should be in by that point in time,” Van Weelden said. “It creates some inconvenience because the staff members don’t have a key to that entryway, so we’ve had to station a monitor there, and that monitor is responsible for letting in staff members or the kids going out to the garage to work on automotives.”

Van Weelden said the lower parking lot entrance to the high school, below the gymnasium, is now being locked during the school day. The district office doors, just a short distance away, are not being locked so as not to inconvenience people coming to pay their tax bills, the principal explained.

“We’ve tried to direct as much traffic as possible through the main entryway throughout the course of the day,” Van Weelden said. “It’s not perfect right now because we don’t have the lock and swipe-key system.”

Soon after teachers and staff return from break, they’ll be given swipe cards to access the building and signs will be posted notifying the public that they’ll need to use the main entryway to get into the school, Van Weelden said. A buzz-in system will be installed at that door and at the district offices, he said. A monitor will also be stationed at the main entrance to buzz in students who are returning from BOCES programs or doctors’ appointments, Van Weelden said.

A new swipe-card security system is also being installed at Bloomingdale Elementary School, Goldman said.

A swipe-card system has already been in place at the Petrova Elementary and Saranac Lake Middle School building, where additional security precautions are set to take effect.

The doors to the Petrova building will be locked throughout the day beginning April 8, the first school day after the two-week vacation. Previously, some of the buildings doors were left open at the beginning and end of the school day. Petrova Principal Josh Dann and Middle School Principal Patricia Kenyon recently sent parents a letter notifying them of the change.

“Due to recent events, there have been reviews of our safety measures and procedures,” the letter reads. “A review of the Petrova building procedures has highlighted the need to make sure doors are locked consistently throughout the entire day. We understand this may seem inconvenient at times but our top concern is the safety of the children of Saranac Lake.”

Starting on April 8, students will enter the Petrova building through Door 2, which is the center door at the school’s bus drop-off loop. There will be a monitor at the gym door from 7:15 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. to admit middle school students dropped off by their parents at that door.

Visitors to the Petrova building will only be able to enter through Door 2 and must report to the elementary school office to receive a visitor’s pass. Parents dropping items off for their children are asked to leave them in the elementary office.

At dismissal time, elementary students can meet their parents outside Door 2 at 3:20 p.m. Students will be dismissed by grade level, beginning with kindergarten and ending with fifth-graders.

In addition, school officials have had meetings and building walk-throughs with police, firefighters and other first responders. Staff have also been told to be more vigilant.

“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the best preventive measure involving violence is to know your community and your kids and your people, to take an interest,” Goldman said. “I think that’s our building administrators’ constant thrust. It’s not glitzy, but if you know something about someone that is getting your attention, don’t ignore it. I still think that’s best measure that a community can take to protect itself.”

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or