Superintendent Bob O’Donnell has said safety comes first in the State College Area School District.
At Mount Nittany Middle School, safety will be enforced firsthand at the front door.
A new office project at the school’s entrance, which is almost complete, will provide added security for the building’s students and teachers, administrators and teachers said.
“The updating of entry to the school is part of a multiyear effort of where we can improve security measures,” O’Donnell said. “We had a community team of police and security experts that assessed our facilities’ security, and this was an outcome of that process.”
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Other school buildings that had security updates in the past two years include the Fairmount Building, which houses the district’s Delta Program, and the high school North and South buildings. He said each building had security door and surveillance upgrades.
In the past, visitors to the middle school were buzzed into the building and had to walk down a long corridor to sign in at the main office.
“When people were buzzed in to go to the office, we had to trust that people would follow our request to walk all the way to the office,” said Ed Poprik, the school district’s director of physical plant.
The school board approved a $164,790 project earlier this year to change how visitors enter the building.
Visitors will soon be buzzed in through a first set of doors after a secretary has seen them on video surveillance. The secretary will then talk to visitors through a secure window before buzzing them in. They must then sign in at the new office.
Principal Brian Ishler said the office could be operating as soon as Monday.
“I just think it enhances our safety and security of our building,” Ishler said. “I think we have a good system now, which will make it safer for students, faculty and staff.”
Ishler said two secretaries will be in the office at all times.
Poprik said the original building design didn’t reflect today’s heightened awareness of school safety.
“It’s a relatively small project, but it has a significant benefit to the school,” Poprik said. “It was built in 1995, and school security was in a different situation than it is today.”
Sara Caracappa, who teaches English as a second language in the school, said visitors used to walk into her classroom looking for the main office.
“I teach in the first classroom as you come into the building, and people sometimes have wandered in looking for the office,” Caracappa said. “I do think it was an issue and, thankfully, it’s always been good-natured people trying to find the office. I know that it will be remedied with the new office.”
Guidance counselor Doug Romig said the new office is a welcome change.
“I think our main concern as a faculty has to always be the welfare of the kids,” Romig said. “In reality, in the past, people had to walk almost half the distance of the building before any adult could intercept them and see what they needed.”
Caracappa is in her third year in the school district, after teaching stints in Colorado and Massachusetts. She said it’s the safest security system she has seen.
“I think the security measures here, now, are by far the safest,” she said. “I think when we say our No. 1 priority is our students’ safety we’re backing it up.”