ST. PETER — School safety is an ongoing conversation in St. Peter schools. But in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last year, the focus became much more acute.
As administration did research and attended safety seminars, Supt. Jeff Olson said the idea of having a single point of entry in the buildings came up repeatedly. Olson said the idea sounded like a good fit for his district.
By January the doors of every school building in St. Peter will be locked except for a main entrance that requires people to go through the office reception area. Such a system already has been in place at the middle/high school for years; visitors go into the main door and must go to the left into the office, where staff can direct them and provide a visitor's badge.
South Elementary and North Intermediate are undergoing construction to reconfigure entry areas. At South, a classroom is being converted into a new main office and reception area. At North, unused locker room space is being used for that purpose.
The projects are happening in buildings where space already is limited.
“That's one of the issues. We're already short on space, and this is making it even tighter,” Olson said. “But we really believe the security need outweighs other space needs in the building.”
Olson said the two projects were estimated at $100,000 apiece. A total of $250,000 was budgeted from the general fund and a capital projects improvement fund for the renovation of South and North. (No federal health and safety grants were available.)
The Minnesota Valley Education District building also has been undergoing a similar reconfiguration at a cost of about $45,000. The building offers alternative-education programs to K-12 students, among other things, and serves six districts: St. Peter, St. Clair, Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial, Nicollet, Cleveland and Le Sueur-Henderson.
Olson said the main goal of the facilities task force that met to plan these changes last spring was to create a “secure, yet inviting entry area.” It's important that the schools remain a welcoming and inviting place for parents and other visitors, he said.
Among the district's other safety-related work, Olson said administration has had round-table discussions and safety training exercises with area law enforcement and county emergency management services.