Northwestern High School in Rock Hill has the feel of a college campus.
Students continually crisscross the large quadrangle as they go between the school’s six buildings. Sometimes they fan out to either side of campus, walking to the adjacent Applied Technology Center or Rawlinson Road Middle School, where some have classes.
“There’s constant movement,” says principal James Blake.
The feeling is by design. Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools were built in the early 1970s when an open concept was in style for high school construction.
Forty-five years later, tighter security is a higher concern after high-profile attacks at schools and other public places. “Crime control through environmental design” is a top goal now for campuses.
The challenge at Northwestern and other Rock Hill schools is to keep the open feeling while improving security and student safety.
On Tuesday, Rock Hill voters will decide whether the school system can borrow $110 million over five years for a variety of improvements. School officials say the the money can be borrowed without raising taxes because other debt will be paid off.
About 8 percent of the money – or approximately $2.5 million – would go for safety and security improvements at all of the district’s schools. The $2.5 million also would pay for energy system improvements.
At Northwestern, the most obvious change would be to replace the four-foot tall fence that surrounds the quad in the middle of campus, directing students to use the sidewalk when leaving the area.
A six-foot fence is proposed. The height, said Kevin Wren, director for safety, security and environmental management for Rock Hill schools, would help deter threats and protect students, Wren said.
The fencing has already been installed at other district schools, including Sullivan Middle School.
But the security plan for Northwestern and other schools is based on more than just adding a taller fence. It involves multiple layers, Wren said.
The layers include cameras to monitor activity inside and outside of the schools, doors controlled by keycard access, and security systems accessible remotely around the clock.
The most critical layer, though, involves the students themselves, Blake said.
“Our kids are our first alert system,” he said. “But we need to do other things. What can take place on our campus? The major threat is from the outside.”
The proposed security improvements follow about $2.5 million the district already spent to implement some of the suggestions of a consultant’s 2012 report.
Security consultant Safe Havens International was hired to audit safety procedures. Rock Hill school officials received the Safe Havens report on Dec. 13, 2012, the day before a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Following the Safe Havens report, Rock Hill schools enacted several safety measures, including locking doors and requiring all employees to wear IDs badges.
The safety improvements proposed in the bond build on the report’s suggestions.
The proposed bond also includes energy efficient upgrades the schools.
Kim Melander, the school system’s energy and systems manager, said the proposed changes will not only consider the projected life of system components, but the energy savings gained from replacing them.
The school system is looking at replacing lights in public areas such as gymnasiums with more efficient LED lights that would be brighter and save energy, Melander said.
The bond could also fund major replacements to the heating and air conditioning systems as some schools.
The proposed changes at Northwestern should result in “a safer environment to learn in and one that is more comfortable,” Blake said. He hopes the renovated HVAC system would also keep staff and students more healthy.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066
A public hearing on the bond referendum will be held at Rock Hill City Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m.
How to vote
All Rock Hill school district precincts will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 5. Absentee votes are now being accepted by the York County voter registration and elections office. Absentee voting by mail ends May 1. In-person absentee voting is open through May 4 at the board’s office, 13 S. Congress St, York. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more info on the master plan and bond referendum go to: http://www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us/community/2015schoolbondreferendum.aspx
Thursday: Repairing or replacing roofs, doors, ceilings, floors and out-of-date bathrooms.