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roxbury elementary school Broken doors a ‘recipe for tragedy’

October 2, 2018

STAMFORD — Safety concerns at an elementary school, where one parent says the front doors fail to close or lock properly, will not likely be resolved this year, according to the city’s engineering department.

Peter Dreyer, parent of two students at Roxbury Elementary School on West Hill Road, alerted Board of Education members last week about the issues with the front doors, which were installed when the building was constructed in 1955. Dreyer said the doors do not close properly, pop open and have a gap between them.

“I don’t have to remind anyone in this room that Dec. 14 is going to be the six-year anniversary of Sandy Hook,” he said, referring to the 2012 massacre of 25 first-graders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

“One would think that every school in the country, let alone here in Connecticut, would secure their schools. People who should not be in that school are in the school and there’s no way for anyone to effectively notify police if there’s an intruder on the grounds — at least not quickly enough to prevent a tragedy.”

Dreyer also complained about the fact the teachers no longer have emergency alert buttons which would summon first responders when pressed.

According to Dreyer, the Stamford Police Department pointed out the issues during a recent security assessment of the school.

Stamford police confirmed they conducted a security assessment of the school in April, two months after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which sparked rallies for improved gun safety and school security. Around the same time, Stamford High School students started their own fundraising campaign to bolster security at the Strawberry Hill Avenue building.

The Board of Education last year approved $250,000 to upgrade and replace exterior doors and locks at Roxbury as part of the 2018-19 capital school budget. While it was marked as a “tier-one priority,” city engineer Louis A. Casolo Jr. said it will take time for the project to be completed. Casolo said the board is underfunded because it only received $550,000 of its $1.65 million capital budget request for security projects.

Planned projects included replacing and upgrading doors and locks at Roxbury, Newfield, Stillmeadow and Julia A. Stark elementary schools, and Toquam Magnet School.

Casolo said the board decided in September to focus on Newfield, which has 30 doors, some of which have rust, are difficult to open and lack proper accessibility for the handicapped.

BOE chairman David Mannis said board members will re-evaluate the timeline to complete the Roxbury project now that they better understand the condition of the doors.

“If it’s not on track, it’s going to get on track soon,” Mannis said. “We can always push. There are projects that get in the pipeline and the city engineers make decisions in order to do them. That’s not our job, but on the other hand, we can and in this case, will, be asking where that is on their priority list.”

Casolo said he plans to walk through the school with board members this week to develop a plan and evaluate estimates to complete the project. However, he said the project cannot move forward without funding.

“They’re underfunded,” Casolo said. “We’re going to look at their needs and see what they can afford to do. Capital projects take some time...but we’re certainly aware both of these schools are projects they want to move forward on.”

Dreyer also said students across the street at Westhill High School often visit Roxbury and are able to access the building because the front doors do not close properly.

“I’m sure there’s been some of these episodes where it’s alumni from Roxbury who are now at Westhill and just want to give a fond ‘hello’ to a teacher,” Dreyer said. “That’s very nice. But that’s a serious safety issue: Open front doors, high school students with unfettered access to elementary school kids — that’s a recipe for tragedy.”

Mannis commended Dreyer, who he said “refocused” the board’s attention on the situation.

At a school safety forum in March, parents listed specific issues they have seen throughout the district. They suggested more fundraising efforts to improve safety measures.

At the forum, Superintendent Earl Kim said the district planned to invest $3 million on security improvements.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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