By Terry Dean
Visitors entering Oak Park and River Forest High School's Welcome Center just beyond the Scoville Avenue main entrance have long had to stop and register with security staff. But when the school reopens this fall a new wall of glass doors will surround the Welcome Center as another layer of security.
The school is building a set of glass doors in the Welcome Center area, in effect, enclosing that small area. Visitors currently must enter the building through two sets of glass doors at the main entrance. Once the new doors are installed, visitors entering the building will have to be buzzed in by the front desk to access the rest of the building.
In a letter to parents Monday, Principal Nathaniel Rouse says the doors are being installed for safety reasons. The doors and buzzer system, which cost about $52,000, are expected to be in place by Aug. 9.
"We have an important and very noticeable building change to tell you about," Rouse wrote. "In order to align our building's main entrance with current best practices in school safety, this summer we are adding a buzzer system of entry. The new system will enhance the safety of our students, staff, and visitors by ensuring that visitors check in with Welcome Center staff, particularly when the center is busy and crowded."
A secured entrance is the latest security change OPRF has made. The high school two years ago installed door alarms on all first-floor entrances. The new Welcome Center doors, which are not bulletproof, will be unlocked during school opening and closing periods. The Welcome Center is manned from 7 in the morning till 10 at night on weekdays.
"What will be new is a series of aluminum and glass doors running along the edge of the carpet on the west side of the Welcome Center, fully enclosing the area," Rouse says. "We ask that you please check in with security, who then will buzz you through the new set of doors to proceed into the building.
Elementary school District 97 over the last three years has built secured entrances at its elementary schools. Its two middle schools, both built in the early 2000s, each have secured entrances — visitors sign-in before being allowed access to the rest of the building. All three public schools in River Forest District 90 also have secured entrances.
At OPRF, a security guard is normally stationed near the Welcome Center. Rouse says that guard can now be deployed elsewhere in the building once the new doors are in place. Rouse also noted that it'll take some time for parents, staff and students to get used to this latest change.
"We recognize that the new look of the Welcome Center may take a bit of getting used to," he says in his letter. "Please know that as we implement this new security system, we also will be working hard to improve the ways in which we welcome guests into our building."