No Ordinary Lock

California school district upgrades classrooms with security locks

Vacaville, Calif., has a population of approximately 96,000 and is located in northern Solano County, midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. Vacaville Unified School District serves more than 12,000 students with 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools, as well as an alternative high school and a comprehensive charter high school. The oldest buildings are more than 50 years old, while the newest were built in the early 1990s, including a 33,000-square-foot science wing nearing completion in one of the high schools.

Because a number of school buildings required modernization, the district was able to secure a $100 million bond issue. A growing awareness of security concerns, highlighted by ongoing incidents in the news, caused officials to include improved building security as part of the plan.

“We realized that the community was very interested in making the student environment safer,” said Michael Flores, a capital outlay program consultant from Central Program Management. “As we developed emergency response and evacuation plans for each site, one of the many things that we promised to do was to install classroom security locks.”

Getting Started
George Durnay, Vacaville’s director of buildings, grounds and equipment maintenance, said the district works closely with Flores and Capital Program Management. The district departs from the traditional method of using a construction management firm to manage only the construction phase of a project.

“Our facilities department has a small staff, so we chose to invite CPM to be part of our operation,” Durnay said. “Our firm plays a bigger role from the inception to the completion of a project,” Flores said. “We deal with the hiring and management of the design consultants through getting the contractor on board and all the way through to the end of construction.”

The process begins with sending requests for quotes to appropriate contractors. Respondents are then interviewed, and several are selected to form a pool. Each contractor then selects its own sub-contractors, through a bid process.

For major building and improvement projects, Vacaville uses a “lease-leaseback” delivery method, which has been in the public contract code for several years.

”In essence, we lease the property or project to the contractor, who is free to do whatever he needs to,” Flores said. “At the end of the contract, when he has completed construction, the property transfers back to the district.”

Flores said this brings public projects such as school buildings into an approach closer to that of private industry and delivers better results.

“We actually bring in the contractors and work with them to design and deliver the project, so we end up with a much better project,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to have buy-in from the design team and the contractor from the inception of the project.”

Getting a Lock on Security
Vacaville schools, like most in California, are designed with classroom doors that lead outside rather than to an inside corridor. Since the school can’t be locked down by simply securing the main entrances, this posed an added problem. With standard classroom locks, doors can only be locked from the outside, exposing the teachers and students to danger.

Thus, a major door hardware upgrade included switching the old locks to Schlage locks featuring a classroom security function. With these locks, a teacher can immediately lock a door from the inside with a key. This ability lets the teacher control access and egress in an emergency. An inside pushbutton or thumbturn latch provides quick release for emergency egress.

A neighborhood situation recently caused one school to go into emergency lockdown. School officials said that were pleased with how quickly they were able to lock down that school.

In addition to changing all the door locks to classroom security locks, the district also upgraded its key system. All schools were switched to a Schlage Everest patent-protected key systems. The keys are only available to authorized persons through professional locksmith channels, which helps prevent unauthorized key duplication.

“It’s another way to protect the students,” Durnay said. “Accountability of the keys was out of control, so I also embraced the idea from a maintenance standpoint. With key blanks that can’t be duplicated at the local big box store, we are now able to develop a checkout system and an education system so people understand the importance of accounting for their keys.”

Technical support played an important role in smoothing the transition, with Mark Betschart of Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies working closely with the district to set up the keying system and providing technical support.

“Mark has the expertise to work with engineering and architecture,” Flores said. “He has been extremely instrumental in helping us determine which keys work in which areas, which people get masters and grand masters, and setting up the key distribution process. We spent several hours developing a plan for passkeys and which combinations go into each lock.”

The objective is to give each principal control over his or her school but still provide the checks and balances needed to maintain security.

Creating Standards
To make lock and other door hardware upgrades as smooth and effective as possible, standards were established before the program was implemented.

“We always recommend that a school district establish facilities design standards and avoid putting a different type of product in every school,” Flores said. “We work with the maintenance and operations department and go through a research process to identify products that have worked well. We make sure they have long-term availability and technical support. “

Other door hardware and access control equipment also were included in the analysis as standards were being developed.

“When we go into a project, there may be a hodge-podge of different hardware types that were installed over the years,” Durnay said. “Each school may have many different types of door hardware as well.”

Together, the Classroom Security Locks and patent-protected key system now provide a much higher level of security throughout the Vacaville Unified School District.

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