Florence High planned to receive safety enhancements through county grant

Florence Township Memorial High School. Photo by Thomas Wiedmann

Florence Township Memorial High School is planned to receive multiple safety enhancements and upgrades funded through a county grant for the 2019-20 school year.

Florence Township School District officials reported in August that the high school is currently undergoing multiple projects and upgrades toward the campus’ safety thanks in part to a grant awarded by the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The grant awarded a total of $707,000 to the Florence school.

In accordance with the guidelines of the grant, district officials said that the security upgrades funded through it can only be applied to the high school.

As the high school plans to upgrade, improve and provide additional safety conditions and technology in the school building and around the campus, Florence Township Superintendent of Schools Donna Ambrosius said the district plans to increase the amount of security measures to ensure students’ safety.

“We are focused on providing a safe and secure learning environment,” Ambrosius said. “We are very appreciative of the grant funds and hope that additional funds will be available for our other buildings throughout the district.”

Ambrosius said that the various safety upgrades and enhancements to the high school campus include an additional security wall in its atrium area, ballistic film for classroom windows, additional cameras and signage throughout the building.

The planned safety enhancements to the Florence school come after the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted legislation in 2018, which made $20 million available in grant monies to improve the security at local high school buildings.

Former Burlington County Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs announced on Oct. 24, 2018, that the initiative to enhance the safety and security of all 21 county public high schools progressed as the board voted unanimously to award $5.4 million in grants to the Florence, Maple Shade, Rancocas Valley Regional, Riverside and Willingboro School Districts.

In June 2018, Gibbs introduced the county’s $20 million grant program during a press conference at the Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly. The voluntary program required each participating school district to make grant applications to the county and agree to a security evaluation by a highly-qualified architectural firm.

Before the end of the summer, county officials reported that all 21 public high schools agreed to participate in the program and had its evaluations completed for possible safety and security upgrades.

The architectural firm’s written reports and county grant application paperwork were received by every school at the same time in September 2018, and schools could apply for some or all of the security recommendations, according to county officials.

County officials said they committed to funding capital enhancements identified in the evaluations, which included projects such as new entrance vestibules; emergency notification systems; classroom door locks; portable screening devices; panic alarms; entry buzzers; and security cameras.

The program did not dictate or mandate safety procedures, staff guidelines or other considerations, according to officials. They said they felt the decision was best left up to the individual school districts.

Although a $24.1 million referendum for the Florence school district was rejected by voters in March, which proposed to fund projects to meet the educational and extracurricular needs of students, improve facilities for community use and fund what administrators said were critical facility upgrades and repairs, they said no capital projects could be completed in its 2019-20 school budget other than the safety enhancements funded by the county grant.

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