Preschool security gets mixed reviews |

Preschool security gets mixed reviews

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Aspen council members indicated Monday that they aren’t opposed to tighter security at the city’s Yellow Brick Building, but they don’t want to rush into costly and extreme measures for the North Garmisch Street property where as many as 150 kids attend preschool every weekday.

“Overall, I feel like we are swinging the pendulum way too far here,” said Councilman Derek Johnson, who said he feels so safe in Aspen that he doesn’t always lock his Juan Street residence.

A proposed $80,000-plus contract between the city and Proguard Protection Services, of Basalt, calls for the installation of a biometric fingerprint reader to allow families to access the building as well as surveillance cameras inside and outside the preschool facility. Fifty to 60 staff members would use a keypad code system to access the structure; an intercom system linking classrooms to a central office would be included.

Johnson and other councilmen suggested slowing down and obtaining more input from parents of children served by the different preschool operations housed in the building.

“The (biometric reader), it’s cool, it’s ‘Star Trek,’ but it’s not something I would want in this facility for my kids,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure they’re safer, but I don’t want to bring this fortress-style environment.”

Councilman Adam Frisch ­— who, like Johnson, is a parent — also said that he wants buy-in from the parents and teachers. He said security measures ought to be balanced with Aspen’s small-town atmosphere, but he added that he might be more inclined to support more security features than Johnson, such as the fingerprint reader.

“I don’t think it’s going to create Fort Knox,” Frisch said of the potential security system. “If someone wants to get in, this will slow them down a little bit.”

Earlier, Shirley Ritter, executive director of Kids First, the city’s child care-funding program, pitched the security features to the council. She and other city employees served on a review committee that has been discussing the issue since January, less than a month after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Ritter’s program leases space to the preschool operations at the Yellow Brick. Kids First, which receives money through a special citywide sales tax, provides various levels of funding to many of the parents whose children receive care and instruction at the building.

The money for the security system would be covered largely by the Kids First capital-reserve fund, depending on whether the city wants to house a technology server at the preschool building or at another city office. A server could be installed elsewhere to give the city the ability to monitor new security systems at its other buildings should the council choose to go down that path.

Ritter said it was the local parents who came to her after the Sandy Hook shootings ­— which left 20 students and six staff members dead — out of concern for their children’s safety. She said that “nobody wants to create a Fort Knox,” but she added that improved security is a necessary step in an uncertain world.

Mayor Mick Ireland said such a system might only “move the perpetrator” to another location in town, one that’s more vulnerable.

“How far do we go with this?” Ireland asked. “I just don’t see this as something we should rush into.”