The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 3, 2013

Conneaut schools intensify intruder training classes

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  A special training program geared to an armed intruder threat is well under way within the Conneaut Area City Schools district, officials said at a joint meeting of Conneaut school board members and City Council.

Staff is getting refresher lessons on protocol and schools are creating “rally points” where students who escape their buildings can safely gather, said Joel Taylor, Conneaut High School assistant principal.

At issue is the ALICE training — Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate — that began early last year. In March, two city Conneaut employees and two school officials were trained to teach the response system to other public workers.

Early last month, staff at CHS and Conneaut Middle School, reviewed the lessons already received, said Taylor, one of the four instructors. Reviews will be done for workers at Gateway Elementary and Lakeshore Primary schools, he said.

Student training should begin in March at CHS and expand to other buildings, Taylor said. Drills will follow before the end of spring, he said.

Meanwhile, Conneaut’s police, firefighters and other first-responders continue to train inside CHS and other school buildings, Taylor said.

“We’re making progress,” Taylor said. “We hope its training we never have to use.”

The Conneaut school district was among the first in Ashtabula County to adopt the ALICE concept.

“Think about how far behind the other (districts) are,” said Cris Newcomb, school board president. “We’re a lot further along.”

There are some misconceptions about the ALICE program, most notably the belief that children are being taught to confront the intruders, school officials said.

“We’re not telling kids to fight a gunman, but to survive,” Taylor said. “Run if you can. (Previously) they would huddle in a corner and wait for doom to come.”

The district is also checking other ways to improve security, said Kevin Warren, building/grounds supervisor and another of the ALICE instructors. “A lot of things we’re looking at to make it better, but nothing is guaranteed,” he said.

Taylor agreed, saying little can be done to deter a very determined shooter.

“We want to minimize the damage (a gunman) can do,” he said. “If someone wants to get in and hurt people, they can — even with guards.”

In other business, City Manager Tim Eggleston asked the school board to consider sharing a 70,000-square-foot commercial building at Harbor and Jackson streets the city is poised to claim. A section of the building could be used as a bus garage or warehouse to store school supplies, he said.

“We can go a multitude of directions,” he said.

The city of Conneaut has held liens on the building for years. The owner, Broad and Jackson LLC, did not repay the city the cost of demolishing the old Astatic factory and also hasn’t paid property taxes. The city is owed about $440,000, said Law Director David Schroeder.

A Maryland-based, yacht-building business sub-leases a portion of the building.

The building needs work and there is a chemical contamination issue on the property that needs attention, officials said.

Eggleston said the city will pursue a grant that would determine the feasibility of a shared building. A tour of the building will be arranged for school board members and administrators, he said.

The city and school district already share fueling facilities that has saved each entity money.