Central Oregon schools using ‘secure lobbies’ for student safety

Robert Knorr, an employee with DBI Construction in Redmond, works on installing a secure doorway on a hallway off the main entry of High Lakes Elementary School. The installation of the doors will give visitors access to the main lobby until they are checked in by office staff and buzzed in the secure area of the school. (Ryan Brennecke/Bulletin photo)

In a country where school shootings have become more prominent in the minds of worried teachers, students and parents, schools are turning to new measures for security. An option that has become popular in Central Oregon is “secure entryways,” also called secure lobbies or vestibules.

Most operate in an identical fashion: All doors to the school are locked from the outside except the front entrance (students or staff can exit out of whichever door they’d like).

When a visitor walks in the main door, the only part of the school they have access to is the front office. Anywhere beyond that is protected by a second, locked doorway.

To get past that second doorway, a front office receptionist will have to buzz the visitor in. At the beginning and end of the school day, the doors will be unlocked so students can easily enter and leave.

“It’s just an additional layer of security,” Bend-La Pine Schools Safety Coordinator Scott Bojanowski said of the lobbies. “It doesn’t allow unfettered access into the building by people just walking in any entrance.”

Central Oregon’s two largest school districts, Bend-La Pine and Redmond, built these lobbies in a few of their schools, but have plans to eventually implement them districtwide.

Secure lobbies, along with other security upgrades such as cameras and door position sensors, are one of the chief selling points of Redmond’s proposed $69.7 million bond going to voters in November. The district has secure lobbies at Sage Elementary, Tumalo Community School and the Early Learning Center.

Meanwhile, Bend-La Pine Schools’ $268 million bond from last year has funded the construction of secure entries to every school in the district. Buckingham and R.E. Jewell elementary schools were the “pilot schools” for the then-new lobbies in 2014 and 2015, according to Alandra Johnson, communication specialist for the school district.

The district also included secure entryways in Pacific Crest Middle School and Silver Rail Elementary by the 2015 completion of both buildings, and two other schools, High Desert Middle and Highland Elementary, also received the lobbies in recent remodels.

By the time school starts in September, six more schools will join that list: Lava Ridge, High Lakes, Ponderosa, William E. Miller and Pine Ridge elementary schools and Sky View Middle School.

Bend-La Pine’s various other schools will receive their secure lobbies in cycles, with all projects completed by January 2020, according to Bojanowski.

Originally, the lobbies were expected to be completed by the end of the bond’s lifespan several years later, but Superintendent Shay Mikalson said the projects were pushed up the schedule earlier this year.

“After high profile attacks on some U.S. schools, we met with our construction team, parents, students, school board, and staff members about the possibility of delivering our secure school lobby projects in just over two years instead of four years,” Mikalson wrote in an email. “Fortunately, we have great partners and we’re able to make this happen.”

Bojanowski emphasized that there was no specific incident that spurred the decision to speed up the lobby construction. Project Manger Gina Franzosa added that the secure lobbies have no connection to Bend’s new high school completion date being pushed back from 2020 to 2021.

According to district estimates, the total cost of the secure entryways, along with other districtwide safety and technology projects, is $12 million.

While Redmond and Bend-La Pine are undergoing ambitious construction projects, some of Central Oregon’s smaller districts are further along in constructing secure entryways.

Sisters School District is nearly finished with its goal of having a secure lobby in every school. Last year, the district implemented a double-door entry at the town’s high school and elementary school. It is currently building one for the middle school, which is expected to be ready by the first day of school.

Jefferson County School District is in a similar spot.

The district built a secure lobby for Warm Springs K-8 Academy during its 2014 construction, and later added the entryways to every school except Madras High last summer.

The high school’s lobby should be finished “in the next month or so,” according to Operations Director Randy Bryant.

Crook County School District Facilities Manger Leland Bliss said his district’s schools already have secure lobbies in place thanks to its $33.5 million 2013 bond.

A representative from Culver School District could not be reached as of Friday afternoon.

Bryant said the secure entryways have been “well-received” by Jefferson County’s parents.

“Even though it’s different, I think they’re very appreciative of the additional security measures,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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