School waiting for safety upgrade

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Charleston Elementary School is still waiting for the completion of a project designed to make its students safer.

The Los Banos Unified School District has been overhauling safety procedures and restricting access to its campuses for the past year. There were plans to add fencing and reposition the main office during the Christmas break, but both have yet to happen.

Charleston Elementary, which is on Charleston Road east of Highway 165 and north of Interstate 5, has access points that allow people to get on and off campus without going to the office. The school district plans to erect a gate and move the office north of its current location to a building in front of the campus that was formerly used as a cafeteria.

The district will spend about $40,000 on the project, which will include the gate, an electronic system to buzz visitors onto campus and renovations to the new office.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen has said moving the office is essential because the campus is configured in a way that allows people to reach classrooms before checking in at the office. On Wednesday, he said that problem will be fixed soon.

“We’re close,” Tietjen said. “The phone lines are in and we’re waiting on the furniture.”

Charleston Elementary School Principal Lou Ruiz said he expected the project to be done by now, but he does feel spontaneous lockdown drills in the past few months have taught the nearly 400 students on his campus what to do during an emergency.

“I believe the campus is safer than it was (in October),” Ruiz said.

On Oct. 30 a man was shot a few miles from the elementary school and then driven to the campus so the police could be called. The campus was placed on lockdown and, Ruiz said, the students were unaware of what was taking place in front of the school.

Ruiz has also been more strict with parents. He said parents have been told they can come and have lunch with their children, but they can no longer visit on the playground.

“We want parents to volunteer,” Ruiz said. “But we want them here with a purpose. We don’t want them just hanging out.”

He said parents have been respecting the new procedures.

It is possible to walk onto the Charleston Elementary campus at a few entry points without checking in at the office, a problem the gates will solve.

Ruiz said the gate will be open before school but be closed during the rest of the day. He said the idea is to force parents to come to the office first. The new office will also have a walk-up window.

“I believe when we move into our new office it will help with safety even more by allowing us to control who enters our campus. We will eventually have a single point of entry which will help us identify everyone entering our site,” Ruiz said.

Aside from waiting for the gates and furniture, Ruiz said a couple doors are needed for the front office and windows that match the design of the building. It is uncertain when the items will arrive. Fresh coats of paint were applied near the campus’ entryway in the past few weeks.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209)826-3831, ext. 6563, or at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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