During Tuesday night’s work session, Aspen City Council members gave their support for a proposed security system at the Yellow Brick Building.
“I think all three of us would have voted ‘yes’ if there was a formal vote,” said council member Adam Frisch, who was alongside Mayor Steve Skadron and council member Dwayne Romero. Council members Art Daily and Ann Mullins were absent.
The Yellow Brick Building houses Aspen’s child care program, Kids First, which 150 preschool children attend daily. The upgrades were proposed after December’s Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 kindergarten students and six staff members dead. The proposed system — priced between $90,000 and $95,000 — would include security cameras, panic buttons, an intercom system and an access-code reader. The Kids First capital-reserve fund would cover the cost.
The City Council also could opt for a master server system — which would allow citywide security management at a central location — at a cost of $22,434 to the city. That option would decrease costs at the Yellow Brick by about $7,000. The Council left the master option open, with consensus that the server should be maintained at the Yellow Brick initially.
After two open houses, which about 20 parents attended, Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, said the vast majority of participants were in favor of the security installation.
However, she noted that one outraged parent approached her, saying she would enroll her child elsewhere if the measures are put in place. Ritter said she explained to the parent that most other schools have similar security measures.
Skadron asked whether there are statistics on the overall effectiveness of such a system.
Frank R. Bauer, of Proguard Protection Services Inc., the proposed contractor, said he doesn’t have specific numbers on the overall effectiveness of the system, but he said that if an incident were to occur, the security measures would delay the perpetrator long enough for law enforcement to intervene. He estimated response time at less than two minutes.
Barry Crook, assistant city manager, said a similar system was in place in Newtown.
“It’s not going to stop a seriously deranged individual with a high-powered machine gun from being able to blast their way into a school,” Crook said. “But would it stop a noncustodial, angry parent from coming in? It probably would.”
City Manager Steve Barwick pointed out that there are other public places — such as youth centers and after-school programs — where children are unprotected.
“There are gatherings of young children everywhere in the community,” Barwick said. “You’d be securing one site and not the others, and most of the others cannot be (secured).”
Romero reminded everyone in the room of New Year’s Eve 2009, when an Aspen man threatened to bomb two banks in the downtown core. Romero said that night provides context for what’s possible in Aspen. The system proposed for the Yellow Brick is a “good cost-benefit play,” he said.
With the new system, law enforcement would have remote access to arm or disarm the system as well as access to security camera feeds.
There has been discussion on which would be more effective: a fingerprint reader or a code-access reader. With the code reader, anyone with the correct combination could enter the building. Bauer said that leaves the possibility of unknown individuals gaining access to the building. With the fingerprint reader, entry would be tied to identity.
Ritter raised the concern that polite parents who hold the doors open for strangers might defeat the purpose of either reader. She said parents and staff would need to be educated on the matter.
“So the reality is you could have 50 parents being asked to go in one at a time through a virtual turnstile,” Frisch said.
Ritter said that wouldn’t be a problem because only a handful of parents arrive at a time.
Skadron said he felt somewhat torn because the measures could affect overall quality of life, something that draws many people to Aspen. But he said that the worst possible scenario would be if the City Council rejected the proposal and then an incident occurred.
“You can’t put a price on the safety of children, so it’s worth it in that sense,” Skadron said.