Newstrack: Cedar Rapids district revamps elementary school's security

'Seconds can save lives'

Doors inside the vestibule can be opened by staff with access badges, while visitors must enter through the office at Hiawatha Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Doors inside the vestibule can be opened by staff with access badges, while visitors must enter through the office at Hiawatha Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)


CEDAR RAPIDS — For more than a decade, schools across the country have taken precautions against potential intruders.

In the Corridor, many school districts have adopted security protocols and training aimed at preparing staff should someone try to harm students, teachers or other staff at a local school.

Two Cedar Rapids schools were the targets of threats in April 2014 — Kennedy High and Franklin Middle. The potentially violent threat at Kennedy High, 4545 Wenig Rd. NE, led to an increase of police presence at all the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s high schools.

Police investigated threats on schools in Anamosa and Benton not long after.

While the school shootings that have prompted national conversations about school security occurred in other states, schools in Iowa also bear threats of violence.


The Cedar Rapids district since then has invested in advanced security measures at some of its schools, security administrator Laurel Day said.

Over the summer, Hiawatha Elementary was refitted with a secure entryway that routes parents and visitors through the main office before they can access the rest of the school at 603 Emmons St.

“We want to make it as welcoming as possible — after all, it’s a public school,” Day said. “But we also have to, in this day and age, be more cautious about people.”


The school’s old security system, which still is used at most district elementary schools, was a small camera outside the front entry. Visitors rang a bell, and after a brief conversation with main office staff, would be buzzed inside.

That system limited conversation between office staff and visitors, Buildings and Grounds Manger Rob Kleinsmith said, and created opportunities for unchecked visitors to follow others inside.

“Nowadays, you don’t want to give visitors that access,” he said. “This gives staff members the opportunity to get a better feel for the intent of the visitor, instead of through a little camera outside. Now, we have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation.”

Hiawatha Elementary’s secretary of 15 years, Robin Shaver, said the new system has kept parents and other adults from slipping by her during busy times.

“I know who’s in the building, and there’s not just people who are roaming,” Shaver said. “You feel a lot safer in the building.”

And while the new foyer is meant to keep intruders out of the building, Kleinsmith said the $400,000 project also will serve as a welcoming space for students and parents.

The cost of implementing secure entryways varies by school, he said, as some school’s main offices aren’t already located adjacent to the front doors. At many of the district’s middle schools, main offices are located on the second floor.

Creating secure entries in older buildings with those complicated floor plans could cost as much as $1 million per building, Kleinsmith said, which likely would come from the district’s SAVE fund.

That fund is supported by sales taxes and can be used for infrastructure needs.

“I’d love to to be able to do it at all schools,” he said.


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Security precautions and training still only can buy students and staff moments, Day said, if someone with harmful intentions were to target a school.

Staff members still go through intruder training, she said, and the district works closely with the Cedar Rapids police to prepare for the worst.

“Every sense of security that we have is a false sense of security,” Day said. “The alarm system in your home, the baseball bat by your bed, the mace you carry in your purse — everything is a false sense of security.

“So what you do is put barriers in place, and you buy yourself seconds. And seconds can save lives.”



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