Cost a concern of potential security upgrade at Yellow Brick in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Cost a concern of potential security upgrade at Yellow Brick in Aspen

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Security upgrades at Aspen's Yellow Brick Building will be up for discussion at an open-house meeting Tuesday.

Following December's Newtown, Conn., school shooting, which left 20 kindergarten students and six staff members dead, a review committee proposed security improvement at the Yellow Brick Building, where about 150 children attend preschool.

The initial proposal — which includes a biometric fingerprint reader, a keypad-code system for entry, surveillance cameras and an intercom for communication between classrooms — was priced at around $77,000.

Shirley Ritter, director of Aspen's child care program Kids First, said a number of things — including the cost, level of security and ease of use for the new system — will be taken into account Tuesday. She said the cost, which would be paid for by the Kids First capital-reserve fund, could fluctuate based on feedback.

"It's going to change the cost — up or down — significantly," Ritter said.

After Newtown, short-term measures were put in place at the Yellow Brick. The main level has 20 doors with outside access, many directly to the classrooms. All but two of those entrances, at the east and west ends of the building, have been locked.

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Heather Stevenson, who used to drop her child off directly at her classroom, said the security changes took place immediately following Newtown.

"At first, that really bothered me because I couldn't use the door I wanted to," Stevenson said. "But then I decided, 'You know what? This is probably good.'"

But Stevenson regards the proposed security system as an unnecessary expense.

"Of course, I would want to do anything to protect our children as a whole," Stevenson said. "But I don't know that this is truly protecting them any more than just serving, vigilant community members that are watching what's going on."

Former City Councilman Derek Johnson, whose kids attend Yellow Brick, said the key will be finding a balance for a fun learning environment that's safe but not invasive.

"My hope is that they follow the direction of the council" by making sure the building is safe and up-to-date but without creating a "fortress," he said.

Johnson said he doesn't want a building that "goes against the freedoms we enjoy in Aspen."

Ritter said many parents voiced concern after Newtown.

In one of the first surveys, parents were asked how secure the building should be on a scale from 1 to 10. Forty-nine percent of respondents felt it should be between a 7 and 10 level of security, 23 percent felt it should be between 4 and 6, and 28 percent felt it should be between 0 and 3. Thirty-five people responded to the survey, a sample Ritter regarded as "relatively small."

She hopes Tuesday's open-house meeting, which is the first of two — the second meeting is Aug. 22 — will provide more feedback. Findings from both meetings will be considered at a City Council work session Sept. 3. Each meeting will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Yellow Brick.

"It's an emotional issue when it deals with your child and security, and people have a wide range of feelings about that," Ritter said.

There haven't been any major safety incidents at the Yellow Brick since December's Newtown shooting, an event Stevenson described as "so sad and so traumatic."

"But really, my first thought was, 'Oh no — I don't want our community to freak out and change the feel of what we have here,'" Stevenson said, adding that there are other parents — people she's good friends with — who have very different opinions.

"Their first thing was, 'Lock it down. Protect the kids. Do anything you can,'" Stevenson said.

The Yellow Brick, at the corner of North Garmisch and West Hallam streets, is owned by the city. Kids First is the landlord and grant provider for the different child care programs that lease space on its main level. Two nonprofits and two city departments are housed in the building's basement. In addition to the 150 kids, the building includes about 50 child care staffers and employees.

One recommendation is for staff to use a four-digit code to enter the building, while parents and other family members would use a biometric fingerprint reader. Ritter said cameras — because they don't affect access to the building — are a separate topic.

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