Mountainview School puts major focus on student and staff safety

Mountainview School puts major focus on student and staff safety
Mountainview School puts major focus on student and staff safety
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 9:19 PM EDT
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EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -19 students and two teachers lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history after Sandy Hook.

Western Mass News is getting answers on how one school district is making school security a top priority, working to make students and staff feel safe in light of recent events.

“The safety of our students and staff is our biggest priority so we really had an emphasis on that during our entire project,” said Allison LeClair, Superintendent of Easthampton Public Schools.

The Mountainview School in Easthampton will open its doors to over 1,000 students this fall, serving grades Pre-k to 8 in a new building that combines the district’s middle school and three elementary schools.

When the building planning committee began working with school and city officials on the building’s design several years ago, the topic of safety was a driving factor.

“Ever since sandy hook things have changed and it is always part of the conversation we design schools now and that’s typically what we do when we talk to a new district that is thinking about a new school. Just bring up the topic of safety and security and find out if they have current policies that they want us to follow and we will guide the discussion as to what we think is appropriate,” said Bert Gardner, principal architect for the Caolo & Bieniek project.

Gardner’s firm also helped design the Easthampton High School in 2014 and they are currently working on a new elementary school in Westfield.

The goal of all these designs is to create a safe and secure space for students and staff. From locked doors in the hallways and classrooms,

“Doors typically close but if you need, you press id and they open,” LeClair said.

To shades on interior and exterior windows, shatter-proof glass on the first floor, and cement stones blocking off outside entryways. Even extended green space surrounding the building so those on school property are easily visible.

“We have a beautiful setting here and there is plenty of space so we could use the landscape as a security feature to the building as well,” said Gardner.

In utilizing that space, the building has what Gardner calls vestibules set up at the two main entrances of the Mountainview School that separate the middle school from the elementary school.

“Once you are in the building there are very limited areas that you can get to during the normal school hours,” Gardner said.

No one can enter the building without key card access or until they are checked in at the main office and escorted to the proper location.

“The rest of the building is secured and locked down where the classrooms are and most of the kids are during the day. You’ll find that the doors of the classroom wings are typically closed when school’s in session and you need card access to get into those wings,” Gardner said.

The building also includes other security measures that cannot be disclosed to the public for safety reasons, all while still creating an inviting space for young kids.

“We really tried to create a space that would be comfortable and safe for our staff who report to work every day. They want to feel that the place that they go to work is a safe place. Families that bring their children to Easthampton want to feel like they’re bringing their children to a safe environment,” Gardner said.

LeClair told Western Mass News that she feels confident with the security measures the district has put in place.

“We have cameras throughout the building and on the grounds...In an emergency, if an alarm goes off all the hallway doors also automatically close and lock in again someone would only be able to enter those through a key fob or a regular key...In this particular room and in all of our classrooms in the entire building, we have a safety zone in a corner of the classroom,” she said.

Now if an intruder did somehow gain access to the school or be outside the building, all students and teachers would come here which is called the safety zone. It is inside every classroom and they wouldn’t be visible from outside the windows or outside the door.

The district also works closely with first responders in the city, assigning two community police officers to the different schools.

“It also goes without saying that we do practice drills, we work with our police department, they come in. they have done multiple walk-throughs of this building to collaborate with us and consult with us on some of the safety features as well as the fire department,” LeClair said.