Designing a safer school

By Matt Porter

February 21, 2013 Updated Feb 22, 2013 at 2:01 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) After being destroyed by the 2011 flood, the new MacArthur Elementary looks to be safer than its predecessor.

MacArthur Principal Maria McIver means business, especially when directing almost 150 hungry 4th and 5th graders during lunch.

Since 2011, she has been forced to improvise in two separate temporary schools after floodwaters destroyed the old MacArthur Elementary.

Security has been an issue at the temporary schools. Both are former Catholic schools that are more than 50 years old.

But McIver, trained by police, knows solid procedures and a good plan can make up the difference.

"The kids and the staff are at the forefront, it's just what are you going to put in place to make that happen," McIver said, "And again, it's just making sure that those things are followed through."

McIver established strict rules that keep kids with an adult at almost all times in the halls.

Her office and every classroom includes detailed plans by the door for all scenarios including an attack.

She said making sure those plans are understood and give everyone piece of mind.

McIver's not afraid to get her hands dirty, even taking time to helping serve lunch to make that process more efficient.

She's not afraid to experiment with what works and what doesn't.

"As the year and weeks go on," she said, "You find different things that will work. So you're changing things, like my current office right now, that's the fourth time I've moved."

But now, a $79 million replacement is almost ready to be built.

That included $484,000 in new security upgrades such as an electronic ID card entry system, dozens of interior and exterior cameras and classrooms that can be locked from the inside.

New Binghamton Superintendent Marion Martinez said they would not design a new school without looking at new security technologies.

"Security is paramount," Martinez said. "Obviously, teachers and students can't focus on instruction if they're worries about their safety."

Two-thirds of the cost will be paid by federal emergency management funds.

Other sources of funding include state grants.

The Binghamton City School District will only be on the hook for $2.9 million that will be paid over a 30-year period.

Martinez said it's important that security be tight, but not intrusive.

"I think it's very important we do this in a strategic way," she said. "We do not want our schools to be fortresses."

Another school destroyed by the flood and being rebuilt is the Owego-Apalachin Elementary School.

The district refused to comment on any security measures or procedures that may be used in the new school.

District officials said releasing security information would be "harmful" and counter the district's efforts for improved security.

The designs for MacArthur have been approved by the school board, and will be sent to voters as a referendum on April 15.

If passed, construction on the new school could begin as early as January 2014.

McIver said she looks forward to the day when her two schools become one again.

"Right now, it's MacArthur primary, K-2, and MacArthur intermediate, 3-5," she said, "Hopefully soon, it will be MacArthur pre-K-5 once again."

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