When students evacuated due to a recent power outage, Wellington High School principal Tina Drake had no way to talk to her staff in the midst of the emergency.
Such problems have prompted the board of education to consider buying $17,530 worth of digital radio upgrades from B&C Communications.
“Office staff and certain teachers at either end of the building have a radio,” said Drake. “Only two of the radios were working. There were probably six or seven radios that were not working. I could not talk to my staff about things like safe distance from the building or to see if all of the students were OK.”
While that cost covers the new radio equipment to be used by staff, it does not include a new repeating tower needed to create a new digital line of communication between WHS, McCormick Middle School, and Westwood Elementary.
Patrick Baron of B&C Communications laid out a three-phase radio upgrade plan to the board.
Phase one is the purchase of the radios and was discussed by the board at a work session on Oct. 11 and a regular monthly meeting Oct. 18. Phase two would include installing the new tower.
Phase three is upgrading radio equipment in the district’s 12 buses, which has been gradually touched up over the past 10 years but would need further improvement to be compatible with the proposals for the school buildings.
“Even talking within the high school can be troublesome,” Baron said. “There are many dead spots where radios and even cell phones aren’t working correctly. This is a critical mass issue.”
Interim schools superintendent Tom Tucker said the issue will be discussed again at November’s board meeting.
School radios are generally updated once every 10 to 12 years, he said.
The ultimate goal of both the schools and emergency responders in Wellington is to have a special channel that creates an instant line of communication to anyone in the schools holding one of the new radios.
“Right now the school is able to hit a panic button that will ring in to the police station,” said Wellington fire chief Mike Wetherbee. “It leaves an open circuit so the police can listen in for a period of time. If they get upgraded and we’re able to create a channel, it would allow us to talk to everyone regardless of them being in the office or not.”
For that to happen, the Wellington fire department would also have to upgrade its radios. It was joined by the Wellington police and Southern Lorain County Ambulance District in applying for a $230,000 state radio grant earlier this year, which was not approved.
“At this point the grant has not yet been opened up for us to apply again,” Wetherbee said. “They’ve told us to try again in the fall but we haven’t received any word of the grant opening up again. We’re looking at it and still pursuing it but we can’t do anything until it’s opened up.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise School board member Daniel Rosecrans inspects handheld radios used in the Wellington school district.