Benhaven Elementary: A model in school safety

House Select Committee meets in Harnett County

Posted 11/5/18

When the new Benhaven Elementary School opened, it brought a whole lot more than just books, pencils and classrooms to western Harnett County, it brought a state-of-the-art security system.

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Benhaven Elementary: A model in school safety

House Select Committee meets in Harnett County

Posted

When the new Benhaven Elementary School opened, it brought a whole lot more than just books, pencils and classrooms to western Harnett County, it brought a state-of-the-art security system.

The new school is quickly becoming a model of protection for students and staff.

With the school as the host, the North Carolina House Select Committee on School Safety conducted a session Friday morning, bringing an even bigger spotlight on the school.

Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming outlined for the panel how the county has approached the issue of school safety, explaining not only the physical safeguards, but also other approaches to the issue.

“We know that schools must be more responsive to the needs of individual students and that we can never be too secure when any internal or external individual wants to cause harm in our schools,” he said. “Many of the additional safety and security resources in our schools do require fiscal resources from the county.”

In order to develop a plan to provide safety and security to Harnett County Schools, several steps were taken. They included the creation of a working group to discuss the needs.

“It has resulted in a strong partnership between Harnett County Schools, our board of education, the sheriff’s office, emergency management and our local municipalities,” he said.

Because of those meetings, new school resource officers were added to all county schools.

Among the other topics the working group has discussed include the features established at Benhaven. The design includes full perimeter security fencing, steel drive gates, complete video monitoring the building, both exterior and interior, as well as a secure vestibule to restrict access to the school building, complete electronic access to all exterior and critical interior doors — including each classroom door.

“The system can perform instant global lockdown and is fully programmable with a complete range of audit and credentialing features,” Dr. Fleming said. “All of our classrooms, not just the exterior doors, all of the interior doors have RFID badge (access points). So if something was going on within a classroom and you did not want to allow entrance in or if someone was in the hallway, you could lockdown each classroom door individually.”

Since the new school is comprised of multiple buildings, five in all, officials have the ability to secure each building individually or all at once.

“With the interior entrances into each building, if the intruder got in between the buildings, all of the doors will lock in each of the five separate buildings on the campus,” Dr. Fleming said. “In essence, they’d be stuck within the vestibule and they’d only have an exit point to the exterior of the school.”
Other features include dark, tinted windows to obscure views from outside which allows almost total darkness when the lights are turned off.

Doors between the buildings are controlled by magnets and will close by remote control.

“Absolutely phenomenal, certainly security was on the minds of those who designed this school,” said Select Committee Co-Chair Rep. David Lewis of Dunn. “But it also takes the cooperation of the faculty and the parents and the staff who are willing to go through the extra step to code unlock the doors or swipe their access card.”

Rep. Lewis said he believes Benhaven is an example of what is to come in school construction as far as security is concerned. He said he believes there will be a balance between how schools appear on the outside compared to what’s going on inside.

“We said early on that we could make schools safe, but it would be like a jail or it would be like going through an airport security line everyday,” Rep. Lewis said. “A lot of our schools, especially our older schools, are in multiple buildings where you literally have to go outside to get to the library or get to the cafeteria, so it’s very hard to do that.”
He said with those issues, the future holds more uniformity among schools when they are being designed. “I do think you will see, a more uniform school plan as schools are built going forward to where public safety knows how schools are laid out, because they’ll all be laid out kind of the same,” he said. “I think you will see the expanded entrance ways where people can’t walk directly into the school, they’ll have to go into the office first to be checked in.

“This is not an issue that developed overnight and it’s not one that can solved overnight,” he said. “I’m very proud of the progress made to date and it’s one that everyone absolutely agrees we have to continue to work to solve.”

While some the changes may seem very daunting for both students and school personnel, Benhaven Principal Lora Street says it has become a part of the education process and one she welcomes.

“It is a lot, but in the end it’s for the safety of the children,” she said. “It’s not a hard thing for us to do, you get used to this ... but the staff has been fine and the parents have been great. They love that there’s one way in and safety is our main concern.”

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