Tight security envisioned for Aspen’s Yellow Brick Building
The Aspen Times
Measures for tight security are under consideration at the city’s Yellow Brick Building at the corner of North Garmisch Street and West Hallam Street in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December that left 20 students and six staff members dead.
Shirley Ritter, executive director of the city of Aspen’s child care program, Kids First, confirmed that a review committee has been discussing heightened security at the building, which contains as many as 150 kids, from newborns to 5-year-olds, on any given weekday.
The committee, made up mostly of Kids First administrators and city employees, formed early this year after parents expressed concern about the facility’s security in the wake of the high-profile murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. The 20-year-old shooter in that case was believed to have had mental issues and no direct connection to anyone at the school.
The city owns the building, and 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 Yellow Brick Building’s basement.
Ritter said there never have been any major safety issues at the building but added that new security measures wouldn’t hurt and that the parents would feel their children are safer. In addition to the 150 kids, the building includes around 50 child care staffers and other employees.
New security features might include a biometric fingerprint reader for families to access the building, a keypad code entry for staff; digital surveillance cameras throughout the property, “panic buttons” that are silent when pressed but alert law enforcement and a security agency and an intercom system between the classrooms and the Kids First office.
While the vast majority of parents and teachers have expressed support for the proposed measures — which, if fully realized, might cost as much as $80,000 to implement — there are a few who believe that some aspects of the plan are excessive, Ritter said.
“I feel like it’s not a large price to pay to safeguard the lives of children, even one child,” she said. “On the same hand, I hate that we live in a world where we have to do that. But I don’t think that we can continue to tell ourselves that it’s not going to happen here and that things like don’t happen here. We just don’t know that anymore.”
Already, Ritter said, some extra security precautions have been taken. There are 20 classroom doors on the main level that provide outdoor access that now remain locked during the day. And a temporary worker has been hired to keep an eye on the doors as parents drop off and pick up their kids.
The basement that houses the nonprofits and city departments would be separated from the main floor and its tightened security, she said, because that area has its own side entrances.
The money to pay for the new security system would come out of the Kids First capital-reserve fund, but the proposed contract with Proguard Protection Services of Basalt still would need City Council approval, Ritter said.
Kids First is funded through a dedicated city sales tax. Ritter said because the expenditure would be paid from a capital-programs budget, the program’s operating budget wouldn’t be affected. There would be no need to adjust program spending, she added.
Sometimes people with no business at the Yellow Brick wander through the main floor of the building, but they are usually lost and confused with the city’s Red Brick Building about a block away, Ritter said.
“In Aspen, we’re used to having buildings open. We have people who use the park and come in to use the restroom. We have people who are looking for the Red Brick. We get a lot of that,” she said.
There haven’t been any issues that could be perceived as a safety threat in a while, Ritter said. Occasionally, teachers have to deal with upset parents or a divorced parent who wants access to his or her child.
“We haven’t had any threats lately,” she said. “It’s always the teacher’s responsibility in the end — who do they release the child to? If the teacher smells alcohol on a parent’s breath, do they release the child or not? Who’s supposed to pick up the child during a custody battle?”
Aspen policeman Chip Seamans, who serves on the review committee, declined comment for this story, saying he wanted to follow protocol and let the City Council discuss it first.
The council will take up the matter at its Monday work session, which starts at 5 p.m. If the council members agree to the need, a contract between the city and Proguard would be drawn up and considered for approval at one of the City Council’s regular meetings in the near future.
Proguard, selected by the committee, was one of two firms under consideration. The company has positive references from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department and several property-management firms in the area.
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