New door locks, radios part of Fort Smith Public School District safety grant

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 350 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools have met all the requirements suggested by the Arkansas School Safety Commission thanks to a $595,000 school safety grant. Part of the grant money is paying for classroom door locks.

In 2022 at the end of former Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration, the State Board of Education gave approval to Emergency Rules Governing School Safety. Those rules became effective Dec. 16, 2022, and govern distribution of school safety grant funds of $50 million made available by Act 3 of 2022, said Bill Hollenbeck, who is retiring as chief of the FSPS police department at the end of June.

“It streamlined the grant process so (law enforcement and schools) could easily get grants in order to meet the school safety recommendations,” Hollenbeck said at the District’s board meeting on Monday (May 20).

Eric Huber, who has been named the district’s new chief of police, said the district received $595,150 from the state last year for school safety improvements that were used for everything from enhanced door locks to fencing to controlled access and emergency communications. The only recommendation from the School Safety Commission that FSPS has not completed is locked internal doors, though all internal doors in FSPS facilities do lock from the inside, Huber said.

The commission recommends that district campuses equip classroom doors with locks so that doors can be locked from the inside. Huber said FSPS is in the process of completing this recommendation. The district spent $191,068 to purchase 922 levers that are being installed. This will allow doors to automatically lock when the door closes to the classroom. Older locks required teachers to step into halls to lock doors.

“This way if there is an intruder, our classroom teachers do not have to step into the hallway to lock a classroom door,” Huber said.

All classroom doors can be locked from the inside, but only about half of locks have been switched out with locks that automatically lock when the door is closed, he said.

The district spent about $127,689 of the grant on access control to FSPS facilities to complete the second safety recommendation – that districts should, at a minimum, install electronic access controls for high-frequency-use exterior doors. He said they collaborated with school principals to meet their needs for internal and external access control. They were able to keep the same software and hardware used in electronic access control installed as part of the millage projects.

“Thanks to the millage, most of our access control was already installed, and we were able to add additional ones to areas that we were not able to get to with the millage,” Huber said.

In order to meet the third recommendation of the commission – that district campuses should have physical barriers such as bollards, landscaping, fencing, low walls, etc. at school entrances, especially the main entrance – the district used $145,742 of the grant for fencing. Fencing has been installed at Northside High School and Southside High School to enhance outside security.

“We were able to secure our courtyard areas that are at both high schools between the cafeteria and the stadium or the cafeteria and the gym areas. This enabled our students to be able to be out there during their lunch time and not have any patrons walking through the areas,” Huber said.

The final recommendation of the commission was that school districts develop layered two-way communication access between staff members and administrative staff via various platforms to ensure information sharing and improve alert processes. FSPS used $57,847 of the grant to purchase nine handheld radios and two additional vehicle radios that help FSPS police officers to better communicate with each other, administration and emergency services, Huber said.

“With these monies, we were able to add additional antennas to help with that communication part as well,” Huber said.