Referendum seeks safer schools
Waupaca voters give green light to single-point entries
By James Card
The Nov. 8 referendum passed with a vote of 4,852 yes and 2,020 no to fund a $3.87 million upgrade for single-point entrances for all four buildings in the Waupaca School District.
Before the election, the district distributed a 1,700-word brochure that outlined the project’s goals and vision in great detail. Two key words were missing from the brochure: school shooting.
In 2019, the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association audited the schools. The No. 1 concern they had was the vulnerability of entranceways. All of the schools had point-of-entry problems.
In the Waupaca Learning Center’s assessment, auditors compared the threat of a school shooter to that of a deer-hunting sniper: “Individuals could easily sit perched above having full access to WLC’s entire lunchroom like an open field.”
That is what the referendum was about without it being mentioned: to redesign the school buildings in a way that makes it difficult for a school shooter to get inside.
School officials referred to this as single-point-of-entry projects, meaning that a potential school shooter would find every single exterior door to the school locked (with alarms) except for one: the main entrance, which would be under surveillance and have extra layers of security.
At this entrance, a person will be buzzed into a vestibule and then buzzed in again into a second secured area with the office reception staff. If a person were to look suspicious, this area is locked down and law enforcement is contacted.
The biggest redesign is the Waupaca Learning Center for a cost of $2.88 million.
Currently, a person can be buzzed in and be free to wander around anywhere. A new office and reception area will be built at the front of the school.
Next, is the Waupaca Middle School at $447,000. The nurses’ station will be moved and a secure office reception area will be built at the entrance.
At the Chain Exploration Center for $309,000, a new secure entrance and reception area will be built outside of the principal’s office.
Waupaca High School is the easiest project at $232,000. A wall will be built at the main entrance and a secure reception area will be formed. An extra door is needed to buzz people into the commons area.
The goal is to have all the single-point-of-entry projects completed by the fall semester of 2023.
According to District Administrator Ron Saari, the next step is to get the community safety committee involved.
The committee is composed of parents, school staff, community members, local business people and some board members.
Plunkett Raysich Architects of Milwaukee will finalize the vision – everything from the door and window placements.
“When we were doing our meetings, we were getting a lot of good input so we have to communicate that to the architects and make sure those adjustments get taken care of. That’s going to happen in the next two or three months. I anticipate through the spring and summer – is the hope – that we’re able to get this taken care of,” said Saari.
He hopes that different crews can work on different buildings simultaneously for best efficiency but he also acknowledges that they must make contingency plans for supply chains concerns that have plagued the construction industry in the last couple years.
The key would be getting the bulk of the construction done during summer when school is out. During the regular semester the schools would have to devise temporary entrances until the construction is completed.
“We’re really excited about the outcome. Seventy-one percent of the support tells us the high level of backing that we have from our community for this project,” said Saari.
Extra grant money
The school district recently received two grants that are related to school safety.
Working with city grant writer Greg Grohman, Saari called the grant application “a shot in the dark” but one that hit its mark.
It was a COPS School Violence grant worth $362,572 through the U.S. Department of Justice. This money will not replace money from the referendum but will complement the single-entry point projects.
This grant money will be used for upgrading outdated public address and radio systems, adding more surveillance cameras and servers to back them up, purchasing Nightlock barricade devices and creating an access control system for all exit doors.
Another related grant is from the Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of School Safety. This is for a Critical Incident Mapping (CIM) system. This makes a digital layout of the school and police can check it on their cell phones during an emergency to figure where exactly in the school building they need to respond to.
With that software, law enforcement can have a 360-degree view of the situation and know where other officers are located. The county dispatch has access to the school’s cameras and coupled with the CIM, the police can narrow down the location where a crisis is taking place.
Solid school finances
The board approved the 2022-23 budget on Thursday, Oct. 27. There is a mill rate decrease for this school year and resident property values will be taxed at a lower rate because of an increase in state aid and sound monetary management by the district.
This will be the lowest mill rate in the school district in the past 30 years. In 2018, it was $10.84. This school year it will be $5.64. The total tax dollars collected this year amounts to $11.39 million. In 2018, the total was $16.66 million.