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Card access expanded to all doors at new Thomas Jefferson High School

| Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 1:15 p.m.

Parents often want to know two things when talking to Thomas Jefferson High School Principal Chris Sefcheck:

“Is my kid learning?” and “Are they safe?”

The two go hand in hand, Sefcheck said. If security measures are in place in a school, then administrators and teachers can focus on education.

As West Jefferson Hills School District leaders move to construct a new Thomas Jefferson High School for 1,000 students, set to open in summer 2018, security has been at the forefront of their minds, they said.

The new high school will be complete with card access to each classroom, which will tie into the district's camera system that will monitor all doors at the school, facilities director Ryan Snodgrass said.

“You see who is in the building. You would also be able to restrict access,” he said.

District leaders included card access at exterior doors in the new school as part of the base $64.2 million bids awarded to six contractors in January.

Low bids allowed district leaders to add card access to nearly all doors inside the building, as an alternate for the project, at a cost of $196,548.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Snodgrass said.

A high school construction committee, including community leaders, students, teachers, parents and administrators, looked at other high schools, universities and businesses to craft a plan for the new Thomas Jefferson High School. There, they found card access was used in businesses and secondary education, along with some high schools, Snodgrass said.

“We're trying to bridge the gap between a high school and secondary environment,” he said.

The Valley Grove School District in Venango County had a similar system in place, Snodgrass said.

The card access will allow teachers and administrators to scan ID badges at the door for entry. A computer can be programmed to restrict access to various parts of the building, or at certain times of the day.

Coaches, then, for example, would only have access to the gymnasium, not the entire wing of the school, Snodgrass said.

“We can give them access to the areas they need and not anywhere else,” he said.

If a substitute teacher would leave with a key now, the district would have to change the locks in the building to keep that person from gaining entry if he or she no longer worked in the district, Snodgrass said. The card access can deactivate that person's account and prohibit him or her from entering the school.

“The system will also give us the ability to lock down the building. We can automatically lock down every door in the building,” Snodgrass said.

Sefcheck said that if he receives an alert of a threat, he can use his phone to automatically lock down any part or all of the building.

Exterior doors will have dual-verification card readers in the event an ID is lost or stolen, Snodgrass said. Those seeking entry must not only use their identification card, but also type in a unique code to be granted access.

The card system will tie into the school's cameras, allowing administrators to see who might have attempted to gain access to the building or if a student leaves via an emergency exit during the day to skip class.

Cameras are not included in the school's bids, Snodgrass said. This allows district leaders to buy the latest technology closest to the opening of the school. It also allows them not to pay architects' fees for adding the cameras, he said.

The camera system will be Internet-based, so select administrators can access it remotely, Snodgrass said. The cameras will be in communal areas inside and outside the school.

The current high school has a camera system in place. The cameras will have a 360-degree view, with no blind spots outside exterior doors, Snodgrass said.

Sefcheck said he will be able to receive alerts on his phone if doors set to be closed during the day are opened, and the cameras will grab a still shot of who is leaving.

It also works the other way — if someone is trying to enter the building who doesn't have access, Snodgrass said.

Knowing these security measures are in place allows educators to focus on why they're there: education, Sefcheck said.

“The first thing on our minds every day is, ‘How am I going to keep the kids safe?'” Sefcheck said. “You can't wake up every day and be scared that bad things are going to happen. You have to wake up and trust that the measures you have in place are going to work. You spend a lot of time preparing for what may happen. We're here to educate kids.”

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