City receives grant to improve school safety

by City of Bethel Staff

Acting City Manager Bill Howell and Daniel Walker, Superintendent with the Lower Kuskokwim School District, were elated with the news that the City received a $500,000 grant award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to improve school security.

“This collaboration between LKSD and the City to secure these grant funds will make our schools safer and more productive learning environments,” said Walker.

It all started in April 2019 when School Safety Coordinator Perry Barr approached City Grant Manager John Sargent about preparing an application to request funding from the School Violence Prevention Program grant. The grant was unique in that a unit of local government could apply, but the funding had to be earmarked for use at the schools.

This grant parameter set the stage for a City-LKSD partnership that was supported by Acting City Manager Bill Howell and ultimately, Bethel City Council through resolution.

The School District expressed their commitment to the project by pledging $166,667 in cash match, bringing the total project cost to $666,667.

“This project benefits the whole community,” said Howell. “The City writes and administers the grant and the school district puts up the match funds and gets much-needed security features installed―win-win.”

In the two-year grant performance period, the City and LKSD plan to purchase and install a mobile phone application on all Bethel teacher and staff cell phones that has the capability to alert police, fire, medical service, or school staff members with the push of a button.

The application provides a way for all school personnel to send and receive notices quickly, which can save lives and reduce injuries during emergencies. LKSD plans to test its use at Bethel schools before taking it to village schools in the district.

Grant funding will provide card reader door locks on all high school interior doors. The locks will be connected to a web-based system that will record and store door opening and closing incidents and send “open door” notifications to school security personnel. This system will make every door more secure, reduce thefts, and stop unauthorized access.

Door alarms will be installed on all high school exit doors that will be activated at the push of a door bar. These alarms will be connected to the same web-based platform as the key fobs so that all door information can be tracked and alerts issued for open doors. School staff will be able to monitor door use and prevent people outside from entering the building and prevent students inside from exiting.

The largest portion of grant funds will be used to purchase and install a front entry system with video cameras, monitors, intercom, and electronic door locks with controls located inside the Front Office. This “buzz-in” system may be connected to both the front left door and front right door.

The system would be turned off during the busy morning as students pour into the building and at the end of the day, but turned on throughout the day. A school staff member must be present to buzz someone into the building.