WASECA High School

Visitors enter the remodeled Waseca High School through a new secure main entryway during an open house in August. The school received a $148,000 state grant to make additional safety improvements. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO -- Five area school district will receive a portion of $25 million in state grants to improve school security systems.

The St. Peter, Waseca, St. Clair, Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial and Tri-City United districts are receiving grants ranging from $10,000 to nearly $464,000.

The Minnesota Department of Education on Monday announced 123 schools will receive state funds to help upgrade their entries and other access points and to update their emergency communications systems.

The one-time grant funding was approved by state lawmakers in May as part of the capital investment bill. Another $26 million for school safety initiatives was included in the supplemental budget bill but it was vetoed by the governor.

The Tri-City United School District received the largest local appropriation that will benefit both its elementary/middle schools.

The Le Center school is receiving nearly $252,000. The Montgomery elementary and middle school will receive $212,000.

The grant dollars will supplement already planned security improvements approved by the district's voters last winter, said TCU Supt. Teri Preisler.

The grants will provide for added elements to the new main entry planned in Le Center and the new early childhood entry planned in Montgomery. The funds also will be used to make the already secure entry in Montgomery even more secure.

Currently in Montgomery and in the plans for the Le Center main entry, visitors have to go through the office to access the rest of the school. The additional grant-funded improvements will include lock and intercom systems that allow office staff to control access into and out of the office.

The grants also will fund a few additional upgrades, including more radios allowing school staff to communicate with police officers and firefighters, strobe lights that will help notify occupants if there is an emergency and alert systems on every exterior building door that sends a notification when doors are propped open.

Preisler said she also submitted grant applications with similar project requests for her district's other three facilities but they did not receive state funding.

The St. Peter School District also is receiving grants for two of its buildings, though the dollar amounts are significantly less.

North Elementary is getting $79,000 for access and communication system updates. The Minnesota Valley School building, which is owned by the St. Peter School District and operated by Minnesota Valley Education District, is receiving nearly $60,000.

St. Clair Public Schools is receiving a $333,000 grant. Waseca High School received $148,000.

Officials from St. Peter, Waseca and St. Clair did not promptly respond to Free Press requests for information about how they will use their state funds.

The Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial made $71,000 in requests and received $10,000 for its elementary school. Both of the district's schools already have secure entrances.

The funds will allow the elementary school to replace its aging staff key card access system and expand it to all doors, according to Jacob Quade, the district's technology director. The district also requested funds for a new key card system at the secondary school.

At both schools, the district also applied for more security cameras and a treatment for windows that would make them more shatter resistant and prevent anyone outside from seeing inside.

Quade said district officials didn't have high expectations for those later requests, as they were rated lower priority under the application guidelines.

Competition for the grants was fierce. The state received nearly 1,200 grant applications seeking nearly $256 million — over 10 times the available funding.

The Department of Education classified entrance and communication system upgrades as priorities, limited requests to $500,000 and set aside half of the dollars for outstate schools. Beyond those criteria it awarded grants via a random selection process.

Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement the high demand for grants indicates the state urgently needs to fund a more comprehensive school safety initiative.

“Students and teachers clearly need more support to ensure our kids are safe,” she said. “The school safety grants announced today only scratch the surface.”

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