WESTFIELD, NJ — A proposed vestibule remodeling project for all 10 public schools in Westfield will not move forward, school officials said.
Board of Education member Gretchan Ohlig, who chairs the board’s facilities committee, explained that the project would not enhance security and would not be an effective use of district resources.
“Given that we have just implemented the new policy of no visitors without an appointment during the school-day, the facilities committee did not believe the creation of vestibules would offer any real meaningful additional security,” Ohlig said. “Because the vestibules do not offer an additional layer of security not already contemplated by our new policy on visitors to our schools, we did not believe it was a thoughtful and responsible use of district resources at this time.”
In addition to Ohlig, the facilities committee includes board members Peggy Oster, Michael Bielen and Brendan Galligan.
Ohlig said the district reviewed the decision with their security consulting firm Stonegate and the state Department of Education, both of which felt the district’s current measures were sufficient. “In each instance, the experts confirmed that the new system was just as effective in keeping individuals outside the building,” she said.
The project, which would require the construction of new vestibules in all 10 schools, would cost the district an estimated $5 million, Ohlig said.
In June, the school board had awarded a $9,500 contract to pay the architectural firm Fraytak Veisz Hopkins and Duthie P.C. of Trenton to design plans for the installation of security vestibules and related renovations.
Ohlig said the district has also decided against implementing an electronic visitor management system because of a lack of information that the systems could provide and the requirement that the system be used indoors, instead of outside of the building.
“The only information provided by these systems currently is whether an individual is a sex offender, which is information we are already provided by law enforcement,” she said. “The person would actually have to be in the building before they could be swiped, so we just didn’t think that it really would add any layer of security.”
Resident Megan Brenan spoke against both of the district’s decisions. Brenan advocated for the visitor management system, saying it would improve the efficiency of identifying potentially suspicious visitors.
“You would have an electronic record of that person’s ID, and not have to go back and look at the tape and pull it from the tape,” Brenan said. “If the information I’ve been told is correct, the gunman at Tamaques school had been in that school previously other times. … If that were an electronic record, you could just go in and do a search.”
“It’s no different from what we have in office buildings,” she said. “It’s unfathomable to me that this is not something that the board thinks is a good idea.”
“I’m disappointed about the vestibules, but I understand everything comes down to money,” she added.
Dolan and Ohlig both addressed Brenan’s concerns.
“We spent a long time looking at the various visitor management systems,” Dolan said, before deciding not to purchase any of them. Dolan said none of the systems effectively tracked when visitors left the building, since visitors could leave through any door undetected. Still, she said, the district is not closed off to pursuing the idea in the future.
“We made some suggestions to some of the companies about what they could do differently coming forward and what newer technology might be able to do,” Dolan said. “We’re hoping they could take advantage of some newer things and then come back to us.”
Meanwhile, Ohlig highlighted the new system’s electronic appointment calendar as an efficient way to see who has visited the district.
“We have an appointment calendar, and we have a log,” Ohlig said. “If the concern is you don’t want to read have to through a list of names, just search the calendar and then you can correspond it with the handwritten sign-in sheet.”