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Keys to Learning

When the West Islip, New York, school district decided to upgrade the buildings for its six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, one goal was to replace all of the locks. In addition to making the hardware ADA-compliant, the change would give security true key control for the first time. It would also reduce maintenance costs over time.

Before the upgrade, the buildings—dating back to the 1950s and 1960s—had the original hardware, which was not standard from building to building. Making repairs was problematic and expensive because it required locating outdated hardware or keeping stock from a variety of suppliers.

There was also no key-control system, and as a result, duplicate keys had proliferated to an almost comic extent. “If something was missing from a room, and I asked who had a key, the correct answer was ‘everybody has a key,’” says Fred Koelbel, the district’s superintendent of buildings and grounds.

Although security funding can sometimes be a hard sell, Koelbel says he encountered no resistance: replacement of the outdated and ineffectual hardware had been put on a priority list by a committee of administrators, parents, community members, and other stakeholders. Everyone agreed that the lock upgrades were a necessary part of the schools’ renovations, says Koelbel.

To help the district assess what security hardware was best for the schools’ needs and to develop a standard keying system, Koelbel vetted multiple security consultancies, ultimately selecting Ingersoll-Rand (IR) Security and Safety. The company was chosen because it offered quality products and good support.

Koelbel and a representative from IR went through each school door by door. They determined the type and condition of the current locks, deciding what new hardware should be installed on existing doors, and creating a priority list for replacements. They also met with engineers and architects to determine what hardware would be needed for the new additions to each school.

“We met after hours to walk through the buildings. An elementary school only took an evening, but the high school took two to three days,” he recalls.

Koelbel and the IR representative also met with school administrators to explore and discuss how each school’s exterior doors were used; this allowed them to decide which doors would be designated as main entrances and at what time of day these doors would be unlocked.

For example, a group of students who walked from a particular neighborhood used a path that led to a door in the rear of their middle school. It was decided that an electric lock would be placed on the door that would be programmed to open for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to allow these students to enter and exit.

At another school, the main entrance was next to the school office, but two other exterior doors were heavily used. One was the closest to the teachers’ parking lot, and the other was nearest to the playground. They decided that the two high-usage doors would be fitted with electronic locks that teachers could open with their pass cards. Teachers could use these doors to go to and from their cars and to take the children out to recess and bring them back inside. All remaining exterior doors would stay locked except for the main door, where a staffer would sign in visitors.

The project was undertaken at several schools at a time, during which “we replaced every single lockset in each building,” Koelbel says. Among the hardware produced by IR subsidiaries selected for the project were Schlage Primus high-security locks and keys, as well as computer-managed standalone electronic locks, Von Duprin exit devices, and LCN door closers.

Schlage’s Primus System uses interchangeable-core locks and key blanks that are only available from the manufacturer. The school district is the singular entity in the zip-code area beginning with 11 that is allowed to use a particular blank. “Nobody can get them at a key or lock shop, so we retain control,” says Koelbel.

Midway through the project, a new type of interchangeable-core lock became available from Schlage—the Classroom Security Lock. This device has two benefits that the other model did not.

First, with this model, a door can be locked from the inside so that in a potentially dangerous situation, teachers can secure the students and themselves against the intruder. Second, the new lock uses what was dubbed by Koelbel as an “X-key” capability, meaning that, similar to a master key, the core is pinned to allow any X-key in the system to use it.

It also allows any teacher or administrator with an X-key to lock the door, rather than just the teacher assigned to the room. The X-keys also work on faculty offices, restrooms, lounges, and other administrative areas that students are not allowed to enter, saving staff the need to carry multiple keys.

Going electric. Schlage standalone electronic locks were also selected for certain doors, such as the playground and teacher parking entrances already mentioned, as well as doors leading from the student parking lot at the high school. Approved student drivers are given a swipe card to reenter the building if they drive off campus to eat lunch. The locks can be programmed to demand a PIN as needed.

“The electronic locks give us more flexibility,” says Koelbel. “They can be deleted from the system when lost, and they can be programmed to work during prescribed times.”

The electronic keys also allow Koelbel to give coaches later access for athletic events and to give psychologists, social workers, and speech teachers who travel from building to building access to all the buildings they need to work in without issuing them a handful of keys.

Koelbel is pleased with how well the equipment is performing. “There was a little adjustment period getting the staff and high-school kids used to the electronic locks, but now they’ve been through it awhile and find it works very well,” he says.

Koelbel also notes that while the installation was not without glitches, IR has offered good technical support. “We did have a problem with one batch of electronic locks, but IR immediately replaced them,” he says.

West Islip’s first school was a one-room schoolhouse built in 1835 and fitted with simple locking hardware. Today, the district is current not only on its curricula but also on a key aspect of physical security: access control.

—By Ann Longmore-Etheridge, associate editor, Security Management