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Connecticut Sets Post-Sandy Hook School Building Standards

State officials announced new school construction protocols Friday in response to the Newtown tragedy, including exterior surveillance, blast-resistant entryways and classroom door locks -- all features that might have stopped or slowed Adam Lanza's assault on Sandy Hook Elementary a year ago.

“We’ve attempted to take an all-hazards approach,” Donald J. DeFronzo, the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, said shortly after releasing the new protocols. “There are no security standards now."

The new standards must be met to qualify for the $600 million spent annually by the state to build and renovate schools, a local responsibility that is subsidized by the state based on local wealth, with an upscale suburb like Avon qualifying for 20 percent and a city like New Britain getting 80 percent.

The standards will apply to all new school construction approved for funding by the legislature after June 2014.  

New requirements include surveillance at every entry onto school grounds and at the main school entrance, which much be built to resist gunfire and other blasts. Schools also must be designed so that police radio signals can reach inside.

The officials drew on the Sandy Hook incident: Lanza bypassed a locked door by blasting away at a window with an AR-15, teachers could not lock their classrooms, and police had sporadic trouble with their radios inside the school. Lanza killed 20 children and six educators.

DeFronzo said many schools may already have these safety precautions.

“It varies dramatically from one school to another,” he said during an interview.

The standards were approved unanimously by a diverse panel that included an engineer, police officer, teacher and several state agency leaders. DeFronzo said they will likely raise the cost of construction by 5 percent to 10 percent for new construction and substantial renovations.

The governor’s budget office estimated last month that $600 million will be spent for school construction in each of the next five years. It will ultimately be up to the governor and the legislature whether to pay for the additional $30 million to $60 million a year or limit the number of school projects approved.

“That will be a reality the legislature will have to deal with if they want to move forward with this,” DeFronzo said.

Each year, most of the 25 to 30 new school construction projects approved by the legislature are for new or substantial renovations to existing schools. And with 1,300 schools in the state and these new standards only impacting new or major renovations, it will likely be quite some time before the schools are equipped with these state safety standards, DeFronzo said.

“I would not say these things are standard practice,” he said.

The 22-page report released by his agency late Friday afternoon provides broad standards that schools will be required to follow. The appendixes cited in the report with the specifics will be released next week, DeFronzo said.

Other specifics he shared Friday include limiting the height of trees at the entrances of schools, requiring playgrounds to be a certain distance from streets, and requiring that schools have emergency notifications to alert staff immediately.

“These recommendations respect the dual priorities that schools are both secure structures and welcoming environments for learning,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said in a statement.

(This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)

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