TRAVERSE CITY — Upgrading safety and security at all district buildings continues to be a top priority for Traverse City Area Public Schools officials.
Board of education trustees approved Monday a bid to install a new lockdown lighting system at the three high schools, two middle schools, 11 elementary schools, the administration center and additional installations at four support buildings and Oak Park. The system includes blue lights on the exterior of the buildings that flash when a lockdown is initiated to alert people outside that they should not enter.
Matt Wolgamott of Feyen Zylstra LLC, which was awarded the bid to install the systems, said blue lights also will be placed in all areas of assembly, including corridors, gymnasiums and cafeterias. The system can be triggered from either the existing security system, phones in classrooms or lockdown switches in the main office.
Blair Elementary School served as the beta site for the project, and a lockdown drill using the new lighting system was performed late last month. Chris Wise, TCAPS security systems manager who designed the installation layout at Blair, said it was "one of the most expeditious lockdown drills we've had yet."
"It's a lot better notification if there is a lockdown versus what we have now. Currently, people hit the switch and teachers are yelling in the hallways and going over the radios," Wise said. "These are extremely noticeable in the building. Your eye goes right to them."
The installation, which is slated to begin Monday and be completed before the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, will cost the district nearly $230,000.
The project is completely funded through a safety grant from the Michigan State Police, which was awarded to TCAPS in November 2018. Michigan State Police Lt. Travis House said studies of previous critical incidents and active-shooter cases at schools have shown implementing security measures such as this can help save lives.
"The purpose of the grant is to keep students safe — or as safe as possible — through the purchase of technology and equipment," House said. "Unfortunately, these instances are continuing to happen. We dare not turn a blind eye to that. If we want to truly take some action right at the places where these tragedies are taking place, we have to invest in that security."
The system emits a pulsing siren, which, while alerting people to an emergency also attempts to disrupt the aggressor. Wise said the sound is designed to be as "annoying as possible" to get people out of the building as fast as as possible. The volume and tone of the siren can be controlled at each individual building.
"If you're in the hallways, it's trying to push you out," Wise said.
TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma said he is happy with the added security the new system will bring to TCAPS.
"When that intruder has something on his mind, anything that disturbs it or gets him out of what he's focused on buys time," Soma said. "The time in these circumstances is seconds, but it saves lives."