Keys and Credentials
School district blends security system to protect students and staff
- By Beverly Vigue
- May 01, 2011
With many school buildings that are veterans of the suburban
expansion of the 1950s and 1960s, Boulder Valley School
District (BVSD) needed to consolidate its access control solutions
to improve security. Today, electronic locks control
access through exterior doors while restricted patented keyways
improve key control and prevent unauthorized key duplication on interior
BVSD, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, stretches from the
Continental Divide to the suburbs of Denver. It operates 55 schools serving approximately
28,500 students in the 500-square-mile area it encompasses, with more
than 4,000 employees.
When most of the district’s schools were built, schools were viewed as public
places, similar to libraries, and security was not a major concern. Emerging issues,
such as custodial parent disputes and the potential for violence, especially in the
wake of the Columbine incident, caused the district to focus more strongly on
steps it could take to minimize or prevent such problems. As with most districts,
BVSD originally used a mechanical key system.
“With good key control, it is possible to maintain a certain degree of security,
but there are always risks of lost keys,” said Steve Hoban, the district’s director of
security. “If someone loses a master key, it could require re-keying an entire school
or even multiple schools, which can be very expensive.”
These concerns led to a pilot program that marked the beginning of the move
to electronically locking perimeter doors. Locksmith Paul Poglajen notes that
the first such installation incorporated Schlage standalone computer-managed
locks, in which access control data is downloaded to each lock individually using
a PDA. Audit trails and other information also can be uploaded to the PDA
and a computer. The database itself is managed on the computer, which provides
quick response to staff changes, lost credentials and changing access requirements.
The self-contained locks also are easy to install because they do not require
Once the district was satisfied that electronic access control would meet its
needs, it moved a step further with online readers that are hardwired into its network.
This approach provides the added benefit of making instant changes available
at every lock.
“Beyond that, there are levels of control, so I can feel comfortable giving a
key credential to a teacher, a para-professional or any employee, because I know I can control their access to a school
and the times they need it,” Hoban
said. “Before, we either had to check
a brass key in and out each day or give
the access 24/7.”
Hoban added that the ability to issue,
change or replace electronic credentials
quickly also is a major advantage
that saves time and reduces cost.
“On the buildings where we have
implemented full electronic access control,
we’ve been able to limit hard keys
to administration and custodial people,”
Electronic access also benefits employees
who work at multiple schools;
nurses, food service workers and physical
education teachers, for example,
formerly needed multiple keys, but with
electronic locks their credential can be
programmed to allow access at all the
sites they serve and tailored to include
the specific hours they should be allowed
To manage the access control system,
BVSD uses the Schlage security
management system, which manages
both online and standalone locks from
a single database. In addition, the system
retains audit trail information that
can be helpful if it becomes necessary
to investigate vandalism, theft, employee
attendance claims or other incidents.
One circumstance that helped facilitate
the move to electronic access
control, Hoban points out, was that
the district’s IT department wanted
to secure its equipment closets at the
schools with a system that would provide
information on who was going in
and out of them.
Using funds from a bond issue, the
IT department installed panels at each
school that also formed the base for
controlling the exterior doors.
The district uses proximity credentials,
both key fobs and badges,
although Hoban prefers the fobs because
they cannot be identified with
a specific school if they are lost. Because
people sometimes delay reporting
a lost credential in the hope they
will find it, he said he believes a lost
badge could compromise security
more easily than a fob.
For exterior doors that are controlled
by the credential, the district
prefers to use Von Duprin EL electric
latch exit devices.
Hoban says electric strikes can also
be used on interior doors that are controlled
or in locations where getting
power to the door for the EL device
would be difficult.
Because funding dictates priorities,
the district’s primary focus for electronic
security has been on perimeter doors.
“Convenience is the enemy of security,
so we try to make it convenient
for people to get in using electronic access
by installing it on doors that are
closer to parking lots, as well as playground
doors,” Hoban said. “A typical
elementary school will have up to six
controlled doors, including the main
The district is working toward integrating
its ADA-accessible doors into
the system, said Vince Grishman, an
electrical repair technician, so the LCN
auto operator on a door will be activated
for a student or employee who needs
it during specific times.
For greater security, most main entrances
have been renovated to incorporate
a vestibule adjacent to the
school’s office, which functions as an
access control point. When visitors enter,
they encounter a locked door leading
into the school but an open one
leading to the office, where they must
stop and register.
The door to the school will open
when authorized credential-holders
present the credential. At schools where
the vestibule has not yet been renovated,
a visitor calls the office from a telephone
intercom in the vestibule, and
the office staff verifies his or her identity
using a video surveillance system
before remotely unlocking the door. In
both cases, the doors are locked automatically
once school is in session.
One added benefit is the ability to
control doors remotely.
“If an authorized person calls in and
needs access, we can remotely unlock
the door,” Hoban said. “Also, if there is
a problem outside the school that creates
a lockout situation, the school can
get the students inside and lock all the
Conversely, if an intruder is inside the
school, the policy now is to get the students,
teachers and staff behind locked
classroom doors but unlock the exterior
doors so police aren’t delayed in getting
inside. This can also be done remotely.
While unlocking the doors may
seem counterintuitive at first, Hoban
points out that the exit devices would
allow anyone inside to get out but a
locked door would only slow down the
To make it easier to lock down the
classrooms, the district is now specifying
classroom security locks on new construction
projects. These allow a teacher
to lock the door safely from the inside,
rather than going into the hallway.
Keys Still Play a Role
Mechanical keys still have a place in
the district’s system, both for backup
in case of power failure and for interior
doors. Where doors require higher security,
Schlage Everest patent-protected
restricted keyways are used to prevent
“Before we used patented keys, we
had a security breach at one school
when people were duplicating keys,”
Hoban said. “Now we have an exclusive
side cut for our zip code.”
He notes that the restricted keyways
are being used on new construction
projects, which are funded by a bond issue,
while the district’s capital reserve is
used to upgrade locks at existing buildings
on an ongoing basis.
According to Poglajen, the district
originally had a single master key, but
consolidation brought in several other
incompatible key systems.
“We’re re-keying the buildings that
had individual key systems and slowly
whittling it down to what eventually
will be three viable masters,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Security Today.