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Greensburg Salem hires architect to make entrances safer

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 7:09 p.m.
Exterior shot of Greensburg Salem High School taken on Jan. 13, 2016, in Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Exterior shot of Greensburg Salem High School taken on Jan. 13, 2016, in Greensburg.

Officials with the Greensburg Salem School District have long wanted to improve security at the entrances of its five schools, but the February school shooting in Florida and a recent break-in at the middle school moved the project to the top of the to-do list.

An architect with Canzian/Johnston & Associates visited district schools last week to see how much it would cost to install “mousetrap” entrances — which have become the gold standard for schools, said Don Macek, a project manager with the New Kensington firm.

“Lots of the school districts we work with, some have put it in, some have been phasing it in over time,” he said.

With such a setup, anyone coming into the school through the main entrance passes through a set of locked doors and then a secure vestibule that adjoins the reception area.

“The first stage of defense is at the exterior doors,” Macek said.

A second set of doors separates the vestibule from the rest of the school.

No Greensburg Salem school now has this type of entrance, according to Superintendent Eileen Amato.

Canzian/Johnston is expected to provide the district with a price estimate for building mousetrap entrances within a few weeks.

District officials have been discussing secure entrances since 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. State police did a security assessment at Greensburg Salem after Sandy Hook at the district's request.

The district has kept the full results of that assessment confidential to protect student safety, but mousetrap entrances were part of police recommendations, Amato said.

More recently, the district's facilities committee completed a years-long analysis of the buildings and aging infrastructure.

The committee determined security concerns were one item among many needed building improvements, said Ron Mellinger, president of the school board and its building and grounds committee.

That changed last month.

“In the middle of all that, Parkland happened, and it all kind of came together at one time,” Amato said, referring to the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida that left 17 dead and prompted an ongoing national discussion about school safety and gun control.

A wave of copycat threats followed that led to closures, evacuations and arrests at schools nationwide and across Western Pennsylvania.

There have been at least 51 threats made against schools, students or teachers in the region since the shooting in Parkland. At least 14 juveniles, ages 12 to 17, face terroristic threats charges in connection with those threats.

The week after the Parkland shooting, a man broke into Greensburg Salem Middle School early in the morning, before staff or students arrived.

Ian Frederick Sagucio ripped the handle off a door and damaged an electronic keypad. He wandered the halls for about 20 minutes before leaving, according to police.

Sagucio died of an unknown medical emergency later that day while he fought with Greensburg police as they attempted to arrest him at his home.

Those two incidents prompted district leaders to make secure school entrances a top priority, Mellinger said.

“We always intended on doing them, but this moved them to the front of the line,” he said. “They coincided with each other. The shooting happened and then the break-in.”

In addition to the architectural assessment, the district held active-shooter training with teachers and police last week.

How soon work could begin on improving security at school entrances will largely depend on cost, Amato said.

“Without even having a rough number, I have no idea,” she said.

Mellinger said he was confident work would begin soon.

“Now it's just one of those things that's going to be budgeted for,” he said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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