On the ballot: Anchorage School District seeks funds for security upgrades at elementary schools

Eagle River Elementary School’s secure vestibule features multiple security cameras, an online sign-in system and windows that allow school staff to see visitors as they enter. (Katie Anastas/Alaska Public Media)

When Thomas Fenoseff walks up to the blue front doors of Eagle River Elementary School, he can’t walk right inside. Instead, he walks up to a camera lens and presses a button.

The outer door opens up and leads into a small room. Doors leading into the school are straight ahead, but they’re locked. Instead, he has to go through a door to the left and walk into the office.

Staff can see him the whole time, either through windows or on security cameras. The school’s principal, staff, and even district security can see the high-def security footage at any time.

Visitors must walk through the office and sign in before entering Eagle River Elementary School. (Katie Anastas/Alaska Public Media)

On this year’s ballot in the April municipal election, Anchorage voters will be asked whether they support Proposition 1. The two-year proposal would issue $111 million in bonds for the Anchorage School District to construct and renovate schools.

The district has built secure vestibules at 17 elementary schools so far. At one of those schools, Denali Montessori, a secure vestibule prevented a shooting victim from entering the school after a dispute in the parking lot in 2018. This year’s bond would fund them for 12 more schools.

Fenoseff is the district’s senior director of capital planning and construction, and he wants every elementary school in the district to have a vestibule like Eagle River Elementary’s.

“About 2018, when there was a rise in the number of school shootings and active shooter situations, we took a look at how to address and make our schools safer,” he said. “So we worked with local designers, we worked with APD, in developing crime prevention through environmental design standards to apply to our schools.”

One school on the list to get a secure vestibule is Fire Lake Elementary School, just two miles away from Eagle River Elementary. The school’s entrance already has some helpful features: there’s an intercom system outside the front door, and the principal’s office has a window next to the entrance. But once you’re through the front door, there’s no door to the front office. Instead, there’s an unlocked door leading to the rest of the school.

Fire Lake Elementary School’s current entrance does not require visitors to go through the office. (Katie Anastas/Alaska Public Media)

Fire Lake principal Daniel Salazar said he likes the idea of requiring visitors to check in.

“Right now, a parent or a visitor, if they get in — for example, somebody’s leaving and they pop in — they can walk right down the hall without really checking in,” he said. “To me, that’s the biggest advantage to having the secure vestibule. They’ll have to check in and walk through our front office before getting into the rest of the building.”

Constructing the 12 new vestibules would cost $16 million of the $111 million bond. Fenoseff said individual projects range from $250,000 to $2.5 million depending on the school. Some of the older schools have their main offices in the center of the school, so moving that to the front entrance of the school takes more work than modifying an existing front office like Fire Lake’s.

Other projects covered by the bond include roof replacements and other structural upgrades at 13 schools. Those would cost $32 million. Fenoseff says replacing the roofs will save the district money in the long-run. The synthetic rubber material they use in the new roofs — called ethylene propylene diene monomer, or EPDM — or improves insulation and helps the district save on heating costs, he says. Plus, it’s easier to repair.

“EPDM roofs can go through a process called restoration, where they can recoat what’s there, and you don’t have to change anything underneath — insulation, structural,” he said. “It’s about a third of the cost.”

If this year’s proposal passes, the district will not pursue a bond in 2023.

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