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Sauk Valley schools win state money to improve safety

Building entrances to be upgraded

Nearly $280,000 in state grant money is coming to the Sauk Valley to be used to upgrade and enhance school security, primarily at building entrances.

It’s part of $25 million being distributed to 448 elementary and secondary school districts, community colleges, and state universities in the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s School and Campus Safety Grant Program.

The grants will help fund more than 1,300 projects, including vestibules – secure waiting areas – being created in many local schools.

Other projects include reinforced doors, shatter-resistant glass, physical locks and other security measures, a news release said.

Among the local recipients, Sterling Public Schools is getting $82,675, Dixon is getting $68,050, Oregon $37,450, and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico $22,700.

Sterling, Dixon and Oregon all plan to create secure vestibules at their schools.

One such area already has been created at Reagan Middle School, while others are planned at Washington and Jefferson elementaries, said Kevin Schultz, the Dixon School District’s director of buildings and grounds.

The idea is to make sure office personnel actually see visitors, not just their images on a camera, before buzzing them in to the school, he said.

Glass in those areas also will be reinforced with shatter-resistant laminate, and there will be a drop-off window where, for instance, a visitor can drop off a child’s forgotten lunch or homework without actually coming inside.

It’s all designed “to make sure our schools are as safe as they can be,” Schultz said.

That work is expected to be done by the end of summer.

In addition, the money will help pay for the installation of more security cameras at the schools, although that work might not get finished until the fall, Schultz said.

Oregon, too, plans to build vestibules at each of its three schools, administrative assistant Alexis Cook said.

P-L-T plans to replace and upgrade outdated cameras inside and outside the high school, said Gail Wright, the district’s director of media services.

Sterling Schools Superintendent Tad Everett said his district applied for more money than it received, but he was having trouble accessing the state’s busy website Friday and so did not know exactly which projects had been approved for the grant money.

About $100,000 in vestibules and other upgrades are part of the district’s plans, he said.

If vestibules seems to be the new school safety buzzword, there’s a reason: Measures that make make school entrances as secure as possible were the focus of these grants.

That’s because studies have shown that keeping dangerous intruders out of the schools, or at least slowing them down as much and as soon as possible, giving staff time to react, provides the best return on the money, said Patti Thompson, with Illinois Office of Communication and Information.

Or, as IEMA Director Jonathon Monken said in the release: “Our top priority for funding was to help schools establish a baseline security capability through such measures as reinforced doors, shatter-resistant glass and physical locks at primary public entrances.

“These are the types of security enhancements experts say can buy valuable time for schools to implement emergency plans.”

The process

Schools districts and colleges submitted proposals to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency's School and Campus Safety Grant Program, outlining what safety measures they hoped to get funded.

Friday morning, the schools received an email directing them to access the website portal where they submitted their applications to see which projects had been approved, and for how much.

The IEMA announced the grant program earlier this year. Only one application per school district or college campus was accepted, although an application could include multiple projects.

IEMA received applications that included more than 2,200 projects totaling more than $54 million from 623 school districts and campuses.

The applications were evaluated by representatives from state and local emergency management, academia, law enforcement, private security and school security.

Source: The Illinois Office of Communication and Information

By the numbers

District Projects Award

Sterling 1 $82,675

Dixon 4 $68,050

Oregon 1 $37,450

Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico 1 $22,700

Morrison 2 $17,582

Eastland 2 $17,000

Polo 3 $16,175

Chadwick-Milledgeville 1 $13,025

West Carroll 3 $5,011

Source: The Illinois Office of Communication and Information

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