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Three area schools get grants: State money earmarked for improving security

The Alexandria School District was awarded a state safety grant to improve security for the Early Education Center at Woodland Elementary School. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)

Three area schools are among the fortunate few to be awarded school safety grants from the state of Minnesota.

Alexandria, Parkers Prairie and West Central Area school districts were three of just 90 public school districts or charter schools to receive grants from a pool of $25 million. The state Department of Education received 1,187 applications in all, with requests totalling $255.5 million, or more than 10 times what was awarded.

"It was the luck of the draw," said Trevor Peterson, director of business services for the Alexandria School District. He said that each of the 1,187 projects submitted that met the criteria was given a random number, and the education department went through them in order until the funds were gone.

"I would think the number of submissions would probably require the legislature to take a good, hard look and see what else could be done," Peterson said.

The $25 million in grants was earmarked for school safety funding as part of the Minnesota Legislature's bonding bill in May. One stipulation was that at least half the grants be awarded to school districts outside the 11-county metropolitan area.

Alexandria applied for two projects, but its proposal to create a new secure entrance and enhance safety involving a portable classroom at Miltona was not chosen.

Brandon-Evansville School District sought a grant for security cameras and a monitoring system for all entrances at its schools in Brandon and in Evansville, in the neighborhood of $60,000. However, it was not among the projects that were funded.

As for the grants that were awarded to area schools, Parkers Prairie Elementary School is receiving $414,842, Woodland Elementary School in Alexandria is receiving $80,593, and West Central Area Secondary School will get a grant for $55,000.

Parkers Prairie

The state imposed a cap per project of $500,000, and Parkers Prairie's application for its elementary school came in at $414,842. The school district also applied for a $171,000 grant for its high school.

"There has been discussion for at least a year or two about doing something for the entrances for both the high school and the elementary," Superintendent Dean Yocum said. "We applied for grants for both schools. The way the process worked, we were lucky to even get the one."

The state funds will enable the elementary school to secure the entrance to the building, doing so by completely reconfiguring the entrance and the entire office area.

"Incoming traffic will flow through the office now," Yocum said, noting that the setup should be more workable for office staff than if they had to watch monitors and buzz people in all of the time. "One way or another they'll have to monitor it."

The school is still waiting on further details from the state, but Yocum said they are looking at having specific plans drawn up shortly, with bids likely going out this winter and the work hopefully completed this summer.

"The office can't be ripped apart very long," he said.

The grant requested for securing the high school entrance was for considerably less money, primarily because they weren't looking at a complete reconfigure of the office there.

"We have a couple of different options as to what direction we're going to go," he said of the high school, with one option involving monitors and intercoms.

While it would have been nice to get funding for that project, Yocum said they were pleased to get one grant.

"It really helps out the big picture of what we're doing with the facilities," he said. "That obviously frees up dollars that we can put elsewhere."

Alexandria

Superintendent Julie Critz told the Echo Press last month that the district had considered making requests on behalf of a few of its schools, but settled on applications for two of its elementaries, Woodland and Miltona. With Woodland, they were looking at a secured entrance.

"The Early Education Center doesn't have that yet," she said.

The reconstruction they have planned would enable the center to close off parts of the building, Peterson said, and allow staff to see who is coming into the building before they actually enter.

In addition, the funds will help pay for door upgrades, and create the ability to have lockdowns, while improving both external and internal security.

Peterson did not know when the funds will be available, or have a timetable for the work to be done. He said their goal is to avoid being disruptive to learning.

"We'll have to identify what time frame makes the most sense and is the least intrusive," he said. That often calls for construction projects to be done in the summer. Peterson even has a name for it: the summer slam.

"That's definitely going to be our goal," he said of getting the work done in time for the 2019-20 school year.

West Central Area

The $55,000 grant will be used to make several updates in the district grade 5-12 building, said Superintendent Barry Schmidt.

"We have a dead spot in the building that causes a communication issue with our walkie talkies, and part of it is going for that," he said.

The district is also installing flashing lights that can be utilized as a signal to those outside in the event of a lockdown, for instance. It is also installing door sensors on about 60 doors.

Schmidt said that security upgrades were made to all of the school's entrances last year, at a cost of about $100,000 in each building.

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