All day long, the front door at Garrett Elementary School remains locked tight.
So do the doors at the back and sides of the building on Eisenhower Drive.
To be allowed inside, visitors now have to press a silver button and state their business into an intercom to the receptionist, who is watching them from a camera inside the front office.
With a press of a button, the staff at Garrett now has the ability to filter every person who walks in the building – and keep out the ones who have no business on campus.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive mixed in probably with a little bit of surprise,” Principal Doug Frierson said. “Many of our parents have been used to coming in whenever they wanted. It’s one more layer of security to keep our kids safe.”
The buzz-in entry, fully launched last week, is an added security measure being tested at Garrett for consideration at other schools. Senior Director of Facilities and Maintenance Benton Starks said most buildings built in recent years have the ability to activate buzz-in systems, but the district is still determining the best way to utilize them.
“We’re trying to see how well it works,” Starks said. “If it’s an encumbrance to day-to-day operations, we need to do it differently.”
Twenty schools in Columbia County use the buzz-in entry systems.
Curtis Baptist School on Broad Street installed the system about two years ago for the security of its students, said Francine Burroughs, the head of the upper school.
She said with the amount of foot traffic in the area and the proximity to downtown, staff decided it was a way to keep unwanted visitors off the campus.
“We love it, and parents have thanked us,” Burroughs said.
Richmond County is also working on other security upgrades and has recruited an outside security consultant to evaluate the buildings and possibilities for improvements. However, Starks said the evaluation of security began long before the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that has prompted much national discussion about school safety measures.
Jenkins White Elementary Charter School is using a lockdown system for the doors in the hallway. In case of an emergency, a button in the front office releases the magnets on the doors surrounding all classrooms and locks them.
Principal Earl Kelton said it’s one more way to give parents, staff and students peace of mind.
Kelton said the school is also considering drilling peepholes on exterior doors so staff can see who is outside.
“I have always been very aware of school safety, but this gives me peace of mind,” he said.