PIEDMONT -- School safety and operations are to be enhanced by the school board's approval of two projects at their Oct. 9 meeting.

The projects will be paid for with leftover school modernization money from the state. It is expected the fund will be $2.3 million, with $855,000 unpaid but due from the state by the end of the year. Going on the steering committee's recommendation, the board gave the green light to installing a two-way communication system that will link Piedmont Middle School, Piedmont High and Millennium High with the three elementary schools -- Beach, Havens and Wildwood -- for a fully integrated system at a cost of $691,000.

"This is essential for a safe (school) community," Assistant Superintendent Randy Booker said. "It will be integrated with bells, clocks, locks, two-way hands-free response -- a total package."

Notification systems at the secondary schools are 30 years old, Booker pointed out. The project includes enhanced classroom audio and video, ability to display video emergency alerts in the classrooms and numerous other 21st century improvements.

"There are currently no speakers in the gym or the theater," Booker said.

The second project approved is a new districtwide phone system for $133,000 that will save money over time and offer improved features and functionality. Also, Beach Elementary School will get new trees planted along Howard Avenue to help screen the new Beach "cool roof" from view at a cost of $12,000.

Numerous residents spoke to the board about a proposed new gate at Havens Elementary School, with views pro and con. Jenny Linn, of the Havens parents club, said several meetings were held to discuss the proposed new gate at Highland Avenue that would provide an additional level of security at the school. Some said the gate would hamper parents picking up children inside campus, while others said anything that further ensures student safety is desirable. The Havens gate has not been approved, and more information, including cost, is needed to move forward, school officials said.

Other projects on the "wish list" are more fencing and gates at Beach, replacement of the Bonita gate retaining wall and yard expansion at Havens and limited upgrades to Alan Harvey Theater. The board favors setting aside $500,000 of modernization funds for the theater. Renovations will be very costly and would have to be paid through a bond measure on a ballot next year, combined with donations.

Superintendent Connie Hubbard said the district's "Shaping Our Future" workshop on Oct. 5 had 100 participants lending their opinions to help shape an action plan. A full report will be given at the Nov. 13 school board meeting.

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