Using state grant, Harrisonburg schools to upgrade security

Bluestone Elementary, which opened in 2017, is among several schools slated to receive security upgrades using state grant funding. (File photo by Eric Gorton)

Several schools in Harrisonburg will be outfitted with new security cameras and other safety upgrades in the next several months. 

The Virginia Department of Education awarded $12 million in School Security Equipment grants to 98 school divisions, which will fund upgrades at 485 schools across the commonwealth. The Harrisonburg City Public Schools will receive almost $197,884, while the district must put up  matching funds of about $49,471. 

Shawn Printz, the school district’s chief operating officer, presented the plan for the upgrades to Harrisonburg City School Board at their business meeting Tuesday night. Superintendent Michael Richards said the city’s schools already have a head start on their upgrades. 

“We’ve been doing some work already, so that $49,471 is already built into our budget, so we’re not going to ask for that in addition,” Richards said. 

Printz told board members that the plan to implement the upgrades will be two-fold. 

“[The grant] will continue the things we were already doing in regards to impact-resistant film, and cameras that we’ve upgraded at Harrisonburg High School as well,” Printz said. 

That impact-resistant film is 15 millimeter-thick Safetyshield 1500 – the strongest material available – which protects glass windows and doorways from damage incurred by natural disasters, such as windstorms, and break-in attempts. The School Security Equipment grant will allow the district to finish installing the film at Bluestone and Stone Spring elementary schools. 

The grant will also fund upgraded security cameras at Keister, Spotswood, and Stone Spring elementary schools, as well as at Thomas Harrison Middle School. Bluestone Elementary, Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center, Harrisonburg High School, and the upcoming Rocktown High School recently had new security cameras installed. 

School divisions awarded the funds have less than three months to start putting that money to work. 

“It’s not like: ‘here’s your funding, complete it when you complete it,” Printz said. “The key is, we have to tell the VDOE what we’re going to do by March 1, and then we have to have everything completed by June 30.”

The district will receive the funds to pay for the upgrades after all equipment has been purchased and installed, and reimbursement requests have been submitted to the education department by the end of June 2024. To work within that timeline, Printz said he might have to shuffle the order of the projects and have staff install the upgrades during the schools’ off hours on evenings and weekends until summer break. 

He also said he intends to use the recent security camera installation at Harrisonburg High School as a blueprint for the schools set to receive upgrades. The goal, Printz said, is to maximize the grant money as much as possible. 

Board member Kristen Loflin asked why Waterman Elementary – which sits on a more than 100-year old foundation – wasn’t included the plans. She said she had noticed that most of the schools set to receive upgrades are among Harrisonburg’s oldest school buildings.  

“Now that we own a historic building, I’m just wondering what happens with Watermen, and if that counts in the registry somewhere,” Loflin said. 

Printz told the school board that the grant application was for a majority of Harrisonburg’s public schools, including Waterman, although not all were chosen. No reason was given for why certain schools were not selected, but Printz said he plans to follow up on that question with the education department. 

He also intends to apply for the grant again next year. 

“This really moves the needle in terms of what we need for school safety and security,” Printz said. “I’m just thankful this amount of money came in.”

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