MOUNT HOLLY — New security vestibules. Updated exterior lights. Additional security cameras. Enhanced door locks. These are just a few of the new security measures Burlington County high schools are planning to put in place after receiving funding for the projects through the county’s $20 million grant program.
“It was perfect for us because we were already in the works (to improve security) but one of the items that the grant really helps with is the safety and security vestibule,” Rancocas Valley Regional High School Superintendent Christopher Heilig said. “During the school day, all of the traffic is funneled through that main entrance.”
Rancocas Valley is one of nine high schools that have been officially awarded a grant through the county’s new school security initiative.
The county has created a $20 million pool of funding available for improvements at all 21 public high schools in the county. The grants are being awarded on a rolling, first-come, first-serve basis in order to fund improvements as quickly as possible.
Pemberton Township High School was the first to receive its award of $1.2 million in early October. The other eight approvals include:
Burlington Township — $768,000
Cinnaminson — $380,000
Delran — $902,000
Florence Township — $707,000
Maple Shade — $1,272,000
Rancocas Valley Regional — $1,001,000
Riverside — $977,000
Willingboro — $1,450,000
Maple Shade Superintendent Beth Norcia said her high school also will be creating a security vestibule and adding security cameras and enhanced door locks and frames with the district’s grant funding. Garrison Architects completed designs for the security upgrades in Maple Shade and in eight of the nine school districts.
“We cannot thank the freeholders enough for this opportunity to add additional security to the high school with no increase in taxes to the community,” Norcia said in an email. “The continued safety of our children and schools is the best investment we can make.”
Riverside Superintendent Robin Ehrich said her district plans to use the funding to upgrade security vestibule, add exterior lights and surveillance coverage with cameras on all access doors, double the number of interior cameras and upgrade the school’s public address system.
“We are just thrilled the freeholders recognize the importance of school safety and security,” Enrich said.
The funding will go to capital improvements identified through the evaluations including new entrance vestibules, emergency notification systems, classroom door locks, portable screening devices, panic alarms, entry buzzers and security cameras.
“With each vote and grant that’s awarded we are continuing to deliver on the commitment I made earlier this year when the program was announced,” Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs said in a statement.
Willingboro Superintendent Ronald Taylor declined to give specifics as to what the district would be doing to enhance security, but said that it was an “important opportunity to improve the safety and security of the high school.”
“We know that our charge to protect our students and staff is never complete and always transforming as the world around us changes,” Taylor said in an email. “Our Board of Education, administration, community and district as a whole place the highest value on the health and safety of our school family. While I won’t give specifics of the plan, it will 100 percent be towards solidifying Willingboro High School’s physical plant in conjunction with the security plan and protocols that are currently in place.”
While the program funding is going to specific capital projects, Heilig said it can serve as the basis for additional security measures the district will be putting into place.
“Once (visitors) check in like that and they’re cleared to come into the building, we’d still like any visitors to funnel into a certain section of the building so I almost call it visitor management too,” he said. “When somebody comes into the building, normally they’re going to guidance, registration or attendance, so we’re in the process of using this money for the vestibule but then also containing all of those visitors into one side of the building. So there would be really no reason to go into any other part of the building in the future.”