Budget uncertainties put DCHS front entrance work on hold
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
In a world where school security is foremost on the minds of public school officials, Dawson County High School administrators are looking to redesign the entrance to the school to increase security and access control, but with the district strapped for cash and the threat of further state funding cuts hanging over their heads, district officials have decided they have no choice but to delay those plans for now.
DCHS Principal Wade Murphy has been planning a redesign of the school’s entrance on Slocum Street for the last couple of years. His goal is to make that entrance the “primary entrance” to the school. Currently, most people enter the building via the Merrill Avenue entrance, but Murphy noted that is less than ideal in today’s world, given that there’s no school employee at the Merrill entrance to monitor who is coming into the building or any other form of access control at present.
“I think it’s an issue just from a standpoint of you don’t have the knowledge of who comes into your building,” Murphy said. “It’s just having the knowledge and having the control of who enters the building.”
That situation will at least improve soon, hopefully by the end of this week, Murphy said. He is having a new camera and access control buzzer installed on the Merrill entrance to finally give school officials some control over who is coming into the building, though the buzzer system will be operated by district office officials, not by the DCHS front office.
“Unfortunately, we live in a different world than we did not that long ago,” Murphy said of the need for increased school access security.
Tightening up access via the Merrill entrance is a first step, but to have firm control over who’s coming and going from the building and for school officials to better keep tabs on them, Murphy and other district officials still want to see the Slocum entrance redesign move forward.
The plan would be to move the principal’s office and the school front office up to the front of the Slocum entrance, with a new vestibule and check-in desk so that a school employee would physically lay eyes on and check in anyone entering the building.
Murphy does have some rough plans for what that would look like, put together during last year’s failed school bond issue. However, he doesn’t have a firm idea of what the cost of the project would be.
“We don’t have the actual construction cost figured out yet,” he said.
At last week’s meeting of the Glendive Unified School Board’s Facilities Committee, Murphy told board members he recently received a quote of $25,000 from an engineering firm to come up with a final design and construction cost estimate. Given the district’s financial struggles, he told the committee he can’t see how they could move forward with the project at present.
“As much as I would love to put my head down and push forward and get it done, I think that with where we’re at financially, we might need to pump the brakes on it,” Murphy said. “I really believe it’s something we need to do and it’s long overdue, but I think we’re going to have to wait. It’s $25,000 just to tell us how much it’s going to cost to build it.”
Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis agreed, citing not only the district’s current financial shortcomings but the uncertainty over the possibility of further reductions in state funding support as Montana grapples with a budget crisis.
“With a lot of uncertainties right now, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to move forward,” Schreibeis said.
With that said, when the district will move forward with the project remains an open question. Murphy said that perhaps they can find enough funding if the district can get another building reserve levy passed next May, though he stressed that money would first have to be earmarked for ongoing maintenance needs, which the district has in spades throughout its aging school buildings.
Barring that, Murphy noted it might take the passage of a school bond issue — which the district is currently hoping to put back before voters in about two years — to make the project happen.
“I think the primary goal right now is to get the building reserve levies passed ... and then we’ll take a look at what we have in reserves that we might be able to dip into, and then if that’s not feasible, we may have to look at rolling the cost into a bond,” Murphy said.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.