When the clock hits 11:15 a.m. on a weekday during the school year, the foyer at Ridge View Elementary starts to gets busy.
Parents swing by to drop off forgotten lunches. To take their kids off campus for a bite.
To pick them up or drop them off from appointments.
It's a good busy. A typical-elementary-school kind of busy.
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And now, thanks to security upgrades across the Kennewick School District, it'll be a safer kind of busy, too.
The school board earlier this year approved spending $250,000 on upgrades to the district's nine oldest and most vulnerable elementary schools. Ridge View and Amistad were the first to get the security makeovers, with Vista, Hawthorne, Washington, Southgate, Sunset View, Cascade and Lincoln also on the list.
All the upgrades will be finished by the fall.
The action was taken not long after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that left 17 students and staff dead — and sparked a nationwide gun reform and anti-school violence movement, with marches and walkouts.
In Kennewick, the school board wanted to know how the district's facilities could be made safer, and the elementary school entrances became an immediate priority.
The specific upgrades vary a bit depending on the school, but the overall result is more secure and controlled entrances.
Ridge View, for example, "is a very 'open concept' school," said Naomi Puckett, the new principal. "It was built in 1992-93 — that’s when we opened. Over time, we found out it was too open, with easy access back to our classrooms."
So the upgrades included adding a security door to the kindergarten hallway — one you need a badge or staff permission to pass through. A similar door also now stands between the foyer and the main part of the school.
Rooms and offices not behind those doors also got security boosts.
Other improvements include reinforced glass in the office and large video screens there showing the school's entrances.
As a result, "we have a higher sense of security. It brings calmness to the building — more than what we thought we even needed," Puckett said. "Now we can walk through the doors, and when they close behind us there is a happy hum of our school occurring and kids are learning without any interruptions."
Pasco School District also is making security upgrades.
It plans an estimated $900,000 in safety and security improvements at 15 schools, starting with entryway work at Emerson, Frost and Whittier elementary schools this summer.
Others schools set for upgrades are Angelou, Captain Gray STEM, Chess, Livingston, Longfellow, Markham, McGee, Robinson and Twain elementaries, plus Ochoa and McLoughlin middle schools and Chiawana High School.
The money comes from the $99.5 million bond approved by voters last year.
In Richland, all the new elementary and middle schools are being built with secure vestibules at the entrances, said Richard Krasner, executive director of support services. And the district is assessing its other schools to determine if security improvements are needed, he said.
The district also is upgrading security cameras at all its schools, Krasner said.
At Ridge View on a recent day, the clock neared 11:15 a.m.
Secretaries Mandy Grandeen and Cari McClelland dealt with a steady stream of kids, parents and staff.
They'll eventually be able to buzz people in by remote control, but on this day they had to get up and down from their desks each time a non-badged person needed entry. They also kept glancing to the screens broadcasting the security footage.
They didn't mind — not in the least.
"We want families to come visit the kids, to see them at lunch. We want to make it welcoming, but at the same time safe for the kids and for the staff," Grandeen said. "It’s a great improvement. I’m glad the district did it."