NORTH ADAMS -- In light of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., entrances to the city's three elementary schools will be redesigned in a way that will prevent immediate access to classrooms and require all visitors to enter through school administrative offices.
Plans to update the entryways at Brayton, Sullivan and Greylock elementary schools were divulged by Superintendent James E. Montepare during a discussion on the district's safety protocols at Tuesday's School Committee meeting.
"We've been having discussions internally about the security and the door entryways at each of the elementary schools," he said. "All of the doors at each of our schools are locked at all times, except during drop-off and pick-up times at the schools."
However, the concern raised by a group of Brayton Elementary School parents, represented by Parent Teacher Association President Kaitlin Cornell, focused on how open the schools were once entered.
"As a group, we have discussed different ways that we can help," Cornell said. "Once you enter Brayton, you are in a large foyer and there are several entrances off of the main lobby of the school. We'd like to see a more controlled situation, perhaps a sliding card system for teachers and a buzzer system to let in parents."
She said the PTA was willing to offer funding to help pay for such a system at Brayton.
"As parents, we would like to feel assured that our kids are safe when we're at work," she said.
Jennifer Kline, another Brayton parent, said she was also concerned about access into the school from the Northern Berkshire Y. Brayton shares a gymnasium with the YMCA and shares several doorways.
"I'm willing to have a tax increase to pay for this," she said. "I'm also concerned about the way people are let into the schools during the day. The Monday after the shootings in Newtown happened, I brought my child to school late. The doors were locked when we got there, but the elderly person who monitors the doors came running over and let us in. That's been weighing on my mind."
Montepare said the redesigned entryways would tighten up security and safety issues at each elementary school.
"At Drury High School, we have a double set of doors. The second set of doors is always locked and visitors have to go into the main office," he said. "We want to do something similar at Brayton. There's a stand-alone heating system at the right side of the doors that will be removed and we're going to build an entryway that goes directly into the main office."
Montepare said he also has a meeting scheduled with Northern Berkshire Y Executive Director Justin Ihne to discuss the shared entryways.
"The doors are old," he said. "If I have to swap out doors, I'll have them replaced."
At Sullivan Elementary School, a single set of doors exist, which open into a lobby that has a hallway into the main portion of the school and an entrance into the cafeteria. Montepare said plans for the school will build a wall cutting off access to the hallway and cafeteria, leading visitors directly to the main office.
"At Greylock, there is a long corridor that leads back towards the main office, but there are hallways off of it to the left and right," he said. "We have discussed putting a set of doors at the end of that corridor, with a buzzer system."
Montepare initially said the timeline for the redesigned entryways would fall during a school vacation.
"There's a sense of urgency," said School Committee Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger. "I'd like to have proposals and a timeline for implementation in place by our February meeting."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who also serves as chairman, assured the committee that Montepare would have the plans and a timeline in place by the February meeting.
"I think we may have some of these changes under way by then, too," he said.
North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said police presence at the schools was being maintained with continued increased car patrols during the day, and School Resource Officer Fran Maruco was continuing to visit each school on a daily basis.