Grant funds project on schools’ list of security needs

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WESTBROOK — The Police Department has received a federal grant to help the school system tackle some of the security improvements needed across the district.

The Police Department last week was awarded $115,157 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services for camera and communication upgrades at Westbrook High School, according to Regina Phillips, the school department’s grant writer and community engagement coordinator.  

The grant covers the bulk of a $150,000 project to purchase 125 new two-way radios for staff across the six schools and install 24 interior cameras for Westbrook High School and Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. Westbrook Police Captain Steven Goldberg said the grant will also provide funding for “improved” numbering and labeling of classrooms and other spaces.

Assistant Superintendent Jodi Mezzanotte said the funding will allow the school department to “build on” security improvements that have been made in recent years.

But a number of school safety upgrades are still needed along with the means to pay for them without using taxpayer dollars, Superintendent Peter Lancia said.

After a series of meetings with law enforcement over the last two school years, school officials have a list of security improvements needed at the district’s six schools, with the high school being the primary focus.

Mezzanotte said additional security needs include new locks at Congin and Canal elementary schools and a security vestibule at Canal.

Although new cameras and radios were not at the top on the list of security improvements, Lancia said they are still much needed. Some of the existing high school cameras are 20 years old and the current two-way radios don’t function in some areas of the building.

“Having grants like this allow us to jump the line a little bit, but these were things that met the criteria of the grant,” Lancia said.

Phillips said she has also applied for a grant for security improvements through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. Funding for future improvements, and even for one safety project that has already been completed,  is up in the air.

A project to improve door security and access and install a key-card access system at Westbrook High School and Westbrook Regional Vocational Center was completed for this school year, and school officials had hoped to use funds from the school facilities capital reserve account to pay for the $25,300 project. The City Council last week put a pause on that action, however, saying the reserve account is not intended for such work. This is the first time the account has been proposed to fund a project.

The fund was created in 2015 when building permit fees were increased from $13 per $1,000 in construction costs to $14, with the increase collected earmarked for the account.

The intention of the account was to pay for energy efficiency improvements, not necessarily building improvements, Council Vice President John O’Hara said.  The council decided at the Oct. 1 council meeting to table the matter while the intention behind the fund could be researched.

Westbrook School Department Director of Operations Dean Flanagin said if the school facilities reserve funding is not available, the work will be paid for through the school department’s capital improvement budget.

“Did the work need to get done? Yes. Do we have the money to do it? Yes, but if this money is available, we can go that much further down the list (of security projects),” Lancia said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

A federal grant has provided funding to install new security cameras at Westbrook High School and provide new two-way radios for staff across the city’s six schools. 

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