The Examiner

Chappaqua School Officials Scuttle Bond Vote for Security Upgrades

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The Chappaqua Board of Education put a halt to a potential $7.4 million bond Thursday night that would have paid for districtwide school security enhancements.

Following two weeks of community outreach, which included a district-wide survey and a two-session public forum, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said there wasn’t immediate urgency expressed by the community to make improvements.

Instead, the district will present short-term recommendations in June and long-term security improvements by January.

“There are things you can do without a bond, and things for which we need a bond,” Board President Victoria Tipp said. “It’s clear that we should make some changes…but I think it’s important to make sure the plans are well-informed and effective and that we’ve explored all alternatives and possible sources of funding if we do end up asking for a bond.”

While the roughly 15 people attending Thursday night’s meeting appeared to support the board’s decision, some said the district didn’t do its due diligence notifying the community.

“Hearing you all speak about how you’ve given the information to the school family community when the rest of us knew nothing is really so incredibly inappropriate,” resident Anne Angowitz said. “I was talking to other commuters and other families who have given everything to this school district, who have been involved, they were incensed to hear that there was one day, a morning and an evening meeting they did not know about.”

District officials hosted a two-session public forum on Apr. 18 that attracted about 60 residents combined. The meeting was not recorded, with Ackerman citing concern about publicizing the district’s security shortcomings.

Angowitz criticized officials for relying primarily on feedback from surveys sent only to district parents. She also suggested results could be misleading with the survey available on the district’s website for anybody to take.

Resident Judy McGrath pleaded with officials to engage the entire community when plans are proposed, adding that more than half of the residents don’t have children in the district and don’t receive district e-mails. She said the district’s attempt to rush the process was disappointing and didn’t serve the community.

While parent Jennifer Fahey said there’s urgency to secure the schools, she felt there should have been better discourse with the community.

“You need to overcommunicate about this issue,” she said.

The proposed plan, crafted by Erik Kaeyer of KG&D Architects in Mount Kisco, would have reduced the high school’s four entrances to a single entry with a secured vestibule where students and visitors would have to be screened at a transaction-style window and buzzed in. Doors would have a locking mechanism and be covered with bulletproof security glass.

The plan also called for the creation of two glass enclosures that would allow students to access any part of the building without exiting any of the four entrances. The proposed corridors would have been between the gym and auditorium and the main entrance and library.

An alternative and less costly plan suggested perimeter fencing around the campus with a gatehouse at the high school entrance for about $2.6 million

Ackerman said feedback she received from students, faculty and the community reflected the more extensive project wouldn’t thwart an intruder, but the alternative plan would change the culture of the campus. Survey responses suggested officials find a middle ground.

Ackerman advised that a committee be created to analyze the high school’s short-term and long-term security challenges. She said the group would present short-term recommendations at the June 13 Board of Education meeting with any changes taking effect by Sept. 1, in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year. Long-term goals would be presented to the board in January.

Trustees Jeffrey Mester and Jane Shepardson agreed the district needs to consult with additional security experts before moving forward at the high school. Both said students’ social and emotional wellness must be considered before making changes to the physical space and the school’s culture.

Mester added a long-term plan should include a five- to 10-year outline for the district. He strongly agreed with delaying the bond to conduct thorough research and encourage more community input.

“We have to define what our goals are, define what the risk is and define how we will address that,” Mester said.

At the elementary and middle schools, Ackerman suggested the board review the district-wide safety and security assessment performed by Altaris Consulting Group, LLC at its next meeting. She said if the board decides to move forward with creating vestibules in the buildings that require restructuring, it can do so without presenting a bond to the public.

Douglas Grafflin Elementary School would require the addition of a secured vestibule with an outside canopy and a security office with a window. Roaring Brook and Westorchard elementary schools and Seven Bridges Middle School would each have a security office. Robert E. Bell Middle School would have a second set of doors installed in their vestibule with a secondary entrance made handicap accessible.



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