Improving safety and security in schools represents nearly a quarter of the $94 million bond proposed by USD 489.
If the bond passes June 7, schools in the district would have secure access entries and storm shelters.
Though Ellis County is a safe place, “the threat of potential violence in our schools, just like in our community, is always there,” Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler said.
“The school is just a small picture of our society, so anything you see going on in society can go on in our schools.”
Feeling safe in the community doesn’t mean people should get complacent about “all these horrible things that we’ve read about in the news,” said Tammy Wellbrock, a member of the facilities needs committee.
“I believe every one of these communities we’ve read about would have believed at one point, it would never happen to them.”
“Our function was to define what is our need,” she said.
The school district currently plans and trains for emergencies, said Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Ring.
“I think our school system does a great job preserving confidentiality of issues that might cause us parents or the general public, alarm,” Wellbrock said.
However, committee members wouldn’t be doing their due diligence “if we didn’t do safety from all aspects, not just tornadoes, not just weather, but harm from people,” she said.
At most district schools, a visitor can enter without anyone seeing them.
“If they want to walk the halls, there’s no one, and nothing, to keep them from doing that. That, security wise, is one of the important things,” said Hays High Principal Marty Straub. “New designs for schools today is to have a small secure area where a person can come to the building and be buzzed in.”
Hays Middle School doesn’t have a security system, but the doors are locked, HMS Principal Craig Pallister told a group at a town hall meeting.
“We are the only school in the district (where) if you come in during the day, you ring a buzzer in the front,” he said.
HMS secretaries unlock the door to let visitors into the school. Pallister told the group he kept track of how often they answered the buzzer, and it was 53 times during one school day.
“It’s not a good security check the way we’re still doing it, but we feel better with that because we can’t see who’s coming in the front door the way it’s set up right now,” Pallister said.
If the bond passes, the security component would include installing a secure entrance to screen visitors.
“If we can slow the perpetrator down, it will allow other people time to get away, (or) take cover,” Ring said.
Intruders at the main entrance aren’t the only security issue.
There are 30 outside entrances to Hays High, Straub said.
“We do our best to keep all of them locked except two, but many times we will find doors not latching correctly, or a student or adult put something in the door to keep it open during the day,” Straub said. “If somebody’s in the building at night, and they need to run out to their car, and they end up leaving, we’ve found a door ajar in the early morning.”
The proposed bond plans call for a system that would alert staff to an open door that’s not supposed to be open during the day or at night when it’s supposed to be totally locked down, he said.
Interior doors also need locks that can be operated from the inside, so teachers don’t have to go into the hall to lock a classroom door.
Going into the hall to lock a classroom door could put a teacher at risk of becoming a target.
Weather safety is the other component.
The schools weren’t built for tornado safety, and they need to be improved, Ring said.
HMS is the only school that has a storm shelter currently.
“Right now if we take all students in Hays, 23 percent are safe during a tornado,” said James Leiker, former USD 489 BOE member and bond volunteer. “The other 77 percent have to duck and cover.”
“There are better methods than duck and cover (but) at times you have to do the best you can,” Ring said.
A storm doesn’t have to be rated as a tornado to cause anxiety.
“High winds can create damage,” Wellbrock said. “You don’t have to have a terrible incident to still have traumatic impact to these kids.”
“We want to bring storm shelters into all schools,” Leiker said.
“Once you build it, it’s going to last,” Ring said of a shelter.
“Anything we can do to make the schools safer, we should attempt to do,” Scheibler said. “Finding that right balance between what we can afford fiscally, and what we need to do, that’s the challenge.”
“I don’t believe a community should live in the fact that it hasn’t happened in the past,” Wellbrock said. “We should always live in what could happen in the future, and be as prepared as we can, especially when it comes to the lives of our children.”