School Security

Lena Tran, right, walks through the John Adams Middle School entryway toward the office after being let in remotely by Dawn Bjoraker, left, with the school. Visitors to John Adams are funneled through the entryway directly into the office after being let in remotely by school staff. Tuesday's Rochester Public Schools referendum is asking for funding for security upgrades to 14 district buildings for similar set-ups. (Joe Ahlquist /

When Lena Tran came to pick up her daughter early from school Wednesday afternoon at John Adams Middle School, she was let into the entryway remotely by school staff. From there, she could only go to the school office.

Scott Sherden, Rochester Public Schools, Rochester Public Schools executive director of operations, refers to that as a funnel. Visitors have only one direction to go when they enter a school and the rest of the building premises isn’t accessible without school staff escort or approval.

“We like it,” said Brant Goetz, John Adams principal. “It’s nice to know who’s coming and going.”

Half of the district facilities and schools have that entrance set up. That would change if the school district's $171.4 million bond referendum passes Tuesday. Most of that money would go toward constructing a new elementary school, a new middle school and to reconstruct two elementary schools as larger capacity buildings at their current sites. About $6.4 million in the bond would go to safety and security improvements at all district schools.

“We have multiple buildings that need multiple system improvements,” Sherden said.

Of 28 district facilities and schools, 14 have the secure funnel entrance, Sherden said.

The district has been rebuilding school entrances when funding is available. Franklin Elementary School and the Alternative Learning Center were the latest to get the upgrades after the district was awarded grant funding last year through the Minnesota Department of Education.

The $177,660 in work at Franklin Elementary School and $109,660 in improvements at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center were the only two security grants awarded out of the district’s request for improvements for all the schools, Sherden said.

Those grants came from $25 million set aside from the Minnesota Legislature for the MDE to disburse statewide for school safety. Those grants aren’t funding districts can count on.

“The likelihood of getting money, the odds aren’t as good as you think,” Sherden said.

In addition to entrance improvements, monitors will be installed at doors that will remotely send notification via email and monitoring systems if it’s opened. That helps school officials know which door is opened and when, Sherden said.

“All doors right now have alarms on them,” he said. “What’s missing is the central notification piece.”

Fire alarms will also be upgraded to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The alarms would be fitted with flashing lights so they alert people with hearing impairments.

The price tag for those upgrades ranges from an estimated $50,000 at John Marshall High School to an estimated $324,000 at Century High School. Most of those upgrades would cost about $100,000 per building depending on the size of the school and how modern the current fire alarm system is, Sherden said. John Marshall had a recent alarm upgrade and adding the visual aspect to it will be easier and cost less than upgrading alarms at most other buildings, he added.

The second bond question calls for $9.5 million to build a competition pool at Century High School and close three older pools at the three district middle schools. Early voting continues through Monday. Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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