NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County commissioners say they want to improve security at the county courthouse and county schools.
Citing concerns prompted by last month's school shootings in Newtown, Conn., Commissioner Dan Greathouse said Thursday that he wants to discuss the security issue in greater detail with Superintendent Suzan Smith.
"I think we ought to take a look at if we can do this together," Greathouse said, noting that there also may be a role for the cities of Chester and Weirton.
Hancock County schools already have a law enforcement presence in the form of the Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) program, which is funded by the state of West Virginia, county commissioners and the school board. The program puts two sheriff's deputies in Oak Glen High School and Middle School and two police officers in Weir High School and Middle School.
Greathouse, in remarks made after being named president of the Hancock County Commission for 2013, said there may be a place for PRO officers in the county's elementary and Catholic schools too.
"It may cost us some money," he said. "We need to look at that. It's very important that we give our children a sense of safety. ... I have a real concern for that. I want to make sure we're prepared no matter what happens."
Smith said she'd be happy to discuss the issue with Greathouse. "We want to do everything we can to maintain the safety of our students and staff," she said.
Smith said Hancock County school principals routinely review security protocols for their respective buildings, but especially since the Dec. 14 school shootings in Connecticut. At the Dec. 17 school board meeting, two mothers of New Manchester Elementary School students told Smith about concerns they have regarding safety procedures at the school.
Renovation projects under way at New Manchester Elementary and Allison Elementary School in Chester have significant security components to them, Smith said.
Both schools are getting windows that do not open and "man trap" entrances, she said. The latter are two sets of doors that prohibit entry into the school unless a visitor is cleared by the office.
"You can't just walk through the first set of doors and into the school because the second set of doors is locked," Smith said.
Oak Glen and Weir High schools and Oak Glen and Weir Middle schools already have man traps, she said. Weir High School and the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center also have bollards, which are short vertical posts that "keep a car from driving into the school," Smith said.
Greathouse said he hopes for a meeting with Smith and other officials in the next couple weeks.
Greater courthouse security also is a priority, he said, noting that a detection system at the entrance or a posted officer, or both, may be in the offing.
"We have to look at that," Greathouse said.
Courthouse security likely will be one of the issues on the agenda when Hancock County's elected officials hold a special meeting at noon Jan. 24, Greathouse said.