Controversial fencing around Park City schools back in the works
The district plans to fence three of the elementary schools for safety
In the past year, Park City School District has added panic/lock-down buttons in the offices, backed up information technology equipment and public address systems to generators and changed the doors — all to increase safety. Now, fences at the elementary schools might be added to that list.
At the last Park City Board of Education meeting, the district approved a $3 million budget for safety updates, which include fences and updated front offices. The district was able to pay for these improvements because of reallocating funds from high school renovations as well as from regular funding for maintenance.
Todd Hansen, director of buildings and grounds for the district, said fences have been planned since 2014, ever since the Utah Division of Homeland Security paid a visit in 2013 in reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But, there was so much opposition from the public that the Board backed down from all but one fence, around Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, which does not have any neighbors.
The district is trying to ease concerns this time around. Last Saturday, Petra Butler, a member of the Board, knocked on doors of houses that would be affected. She explained the district’s reasoning and listened to complaints.
“They have some concerns,” she said. “But we really do want to work together. This isn’t something the school district is going to roll out and say, ‘Ok, this is what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and we don’t want any input.’ We want to work with the community to make sure what we’re doing is acceptable to everyone.”
The plan calls for black, chain-linked fences that would run the perimeter of Parley’s Park, McPolin and Trailside elementary schools. There would be a cement mow-strip down the fence-line and gates for trails that enter school grounds. After installation, a gate would also close off a walking path behind McPolin during school hours. The total cost of the project is $350,000.
“Right now, anybody can wander onto our school property and come and abduct kids,” Hansen said. “And this helps protect the kids from even wandering off. We have some special-needs kids that, if we don’t watch them every second, they will run away.”
Hansen hopes to place the fences and gates before the ground freezes around November. To meet that deadline, the Board is planning meetings at each elementary school this month so residents can make suggestions about gate placement and voice other concerns. Dates have not yet been set for the meetings.
Some residents are concerned fencing would decrease their property values and disrupt their views, Hansen said. Barbara Hadley, a resident of the subdivision Snyder’s Mill, said a fence would give a false sense of safety and is not necessary to protect kids. She has lived by Parley’s Park for six years and has two children attending the school.
She said the fence “doesn’t align with Park City values” because it would close off open space and place a permanent 1,200-yard piece of metal that creates pollution to make. As for safety, increasing volunteer monitors during lunch-time would do more than a fence, she said.
“It’s not of any interest in the community,” she said. “If you were to put all of the arguments for the fence and all of the arguments against the fence and present them to community at large, every person at Parley’s Park would see that it is not a necessary use of our funds. It’s not going to increase the safety of our children.”
Hadley is also in favor of increasing safety within the school so it is not so easy to enter, something the district will be evaluating in the coming months.
Officials plan to extend the vestibules, or the space between the two front doors, at the elementary schools. With these changes, the public would have to enter the office instead of the school directly. Secretaries would scan licenses or another form of ID and buzz the visitors in. Students would enter using regular doors that lock as soon as the school bell rings. New doors leading outside directly from classrooms would be installed with a switch to notify the office if a door has been blocked open.
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The Park City School District announced it will publish data about confirmed COVID-19 cases in its schools and tell parents when a case comes to their child’s school.