East Providence schools re-evaluate safety issues in wake of Newtown, Conn. massacre

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EAST PROVIDENCE — In the wake of the tragic events at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Friday, Dec. 14, educational districts across the country, including East Providence, are re-evaluating all issues regarding building safety.

In city, specifically, school buildings have been in a condition of disrepair to varying degrees for several years. Doors, windows and communication systems remain the most pressing safety issues at the facilities.

Proposals were considered in the past, but often not followed through upon until the last school committee started the process of procuring some $15 million in bond monies to address the situation in 2011. The city initially was able to get $6 million before East Providence’s finances plummeted. After the budget commission helped improve the city’s fiscal outlook, the remaining $9 million was gained earlier this calendar year.

Much of the first installment of those funds went towards fixing problems pertaining to the air quality, heating and asbestos abatement at facilities as well as upgrading the electronic capabilities in each.

The latest installment is designated to address unsecured or ill-fitting doors and inefficient windows along with the replacement of faulty intercom systems among other problems.

“I know the money the city recently borrowed is earmarked towards upgrading facilities,” out-going Rhode Island State Senator and current Martin Middle School Principal Frank DeVall Jr. said over the weekend. “I know doors are a problem at multiple buildings in the district.”

The original, interior open-air design of Martin makes it atypical of the other East Providence school buildings. It’s points of ingress and egress are where it shares similar problems with the other schools.

Martin and East Providence High School have also been long overdue in having their out-dated and ineffective communication systems replaced. Those issues, like doors and windows, are supposed to be fixed in the near-term with the loan money.

“I know they’ve started to do some work as the schools, but I hope they get to the (intercom and door repairs) sooner rather than later,” Mr. DeVall said.

Mr. DeVall added he was planning on holding a staff meeting before school Monday morning, Dec. 17, to talk about the Newtown massacre, which saw a lone assailant murder 26 mostly first-grade aged students and school personnel. He plans to address protocol, calm any frayed nerves and allow his teachers to clear what is sure to be an emotional air.

The entire country remains stunned and confused by yet another senseless act of violence, but the latest occurrence acutely affected the educational community much in the same way as the horrific shooting at the high school Columbine, Colo. did just over a decade ago.

“For security reasons, I think what happened Friday will change America again,” Mr. DeVall said.

Comparing to how the country responded to Sept. 11, 2001 and other acts of terror, Mr. DeVall said he soon expects all school buildings will have body scanners/metal detectors like those used in airports and government facilities.

“Something like this cripples the American psyche,” Mr. DeVall concluded. “We have to do something about it and quickly.”

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