WENATCHEE — Building double-door vestibules at every Wenatchee school isn’t going to happen, but visitors will still have to be “buzzed in” by school staff during the day.
That’s the change of plan approved Tuesday by the Wenatchee School Board after the advertised construction project for the new entryways at the elementary and middle schools received a lone bid that was $500,000 over the architect’s $1 million estimate.
The alternative plan, proposed by district administration, is to install electric door systems with video call boxes at each of the schools. Staff will be able to see who they are letting in, but once in, visitors won’t have a physical barrier requiring them to stop at the office as they would have had with the vestibule system. Fences and locking gates to help boost security are moving forward as planned.
“This does not mean we can’t do the vestibule project at a later date. We have the option to add it down the road,” said Assistant Superintendent Mark Helm. “If our goal is to slow people down and make sure we have the right people in the building, then this accomplishes that. Right now, there is nothing to stop them.”
The push for improved security followed a Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and 17 others injured.
After a series of community meetings, the board approved a plan to pay for security upgrades from $3 million in funds remaining from previous construction projects that initially had been earmarked for a new high school. The hope at the time was to complete the projects in the summer 2019. The initial timeline was postponed until this year in hopes of getting more interest from contractors.
Board President Laura Jaecks on Tuesday said she hesitated approving the change in plan because it would be better to have the same security at all the schools. The double-door vestibules already are part of the newly remodeled schools at Lincoln and Washington elementary schools.
Superintendent Paul Gordon said even if the district had the extra funds, the vestibule projects likely would not be completed for several years, given the lack of interest by contractors and reported lack of availability of subcontractors.
The upside, Helm said, is in the modified plan, most of the work can be completed by district staff, which means the new buzz-in systems would be in place if not by the start of school in the fall, then by the end of 2020. He said security improvements for the high school entrance are still on the drawing board.
“I think something is better than nothing,” said board member Michele Sandberg. “I’m looking forward to having buildings that are more secure for staff and students.”
In addition to approving the change in the construction plan, the board on Tuesday awarded Pennington Construction of Wenatchee a contract for $101,219.11 to do the concrete work associated with the security projects. Pennington was the low bidder out of seven.
The project includes demolition, site preparation, and placement of sidewalks and curbing at Mission View and Columbia Elementary schools and Pioneer and Foothills middle schools.
Wesslen Construction Inc. previously was awarded the fencing contract for $270,000.
Helm said the egress gate portion of the project, which had been broken out as part of the rejected vestibule bid, will be re-advertised. New estimates on the exterior door hardware and access controls also will be put together.