Despite prolonged debate over the value of investing up to $500,000 in protective film for school windows, the Representative Town Meeting gave near-unanimous approval to the expenditure Tuesday night.
The $435,895 allocation, with the additional allowance of a roughly 15 percent contingency, will pay for part of the Board of Education's initiatives to improve school security, an effort launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Installation of the window safety film, expected to be completed this summer, is one of several upgrades based on findings in a $100,000 school security made by the Kroll consulting firm. The board earlier this year received approval to spend $200,000 on classroom security lock sets.
More than 23,000 square feet of clear protective film will be applied up to a minimum height of 6 feet around all first-floor windows and doors in town school buildings by Millard Enterprises of Cromwell, which the RTM was told is the only distributor of the 3M product in Connecticut.
"We stand to collect a reimbursement of approximately 20 percent," said Elio Longo, the school district's business director. He said that studies show the glass film can help to delay an intruder's forced entry with a gun and baseball bat by as much as two minutes.
During the RTM's two-and-a-half-hour debate, some members wanted to know what other school security measures the Board of Education plans in the future.
Whitney said that, although security expenditures are anticipated in the range of $1.4 million -- "primarily in the area of communications" -- nothing would be final before fall.
"We've already done a great deal of work in the training area," she said, along with a range of initiatives that include increased police patrols around schools during hours that classes are in session. Many of these, she said, "don't require us coming to you for additional capital funds."
Mandell and others, however, said that details should be provided so the RTM can know the big picture before voting on the $500,000 allocation, even if it meant convening a private executive session with the school board.
A number of RTM members wanted to postpone Tuesday night's vote for at least two weeks in order to arrange for a private briefing on overall school security, but the motion was ultimately voted down.
"We live in a society that scares me at this point and our reaction to this is just as scary," Mandell said, asking where proposals for more security measures would end. "Part of our town character is not having an armed camp for our schools ... I don't want to start putting plastic on our buses. I don't want to start putting 10-foot fences around our schools."
"What we're talking about here are the safety of our students and our staff," Whitney responded.
"We are committed not to creating a fortress environment," she said, noting the recommendations came from the security audit conducted by Kroll, Inc.
Other members expressed strong beliefs in taking whatever measures possible to ensure safety.
"Because of the world we live in and because of all that has happened ... I will do whatever needs to be done, or support anything, that protects my kids and gives me peace of mind," said Neil Phillips, RTM District 2.
Just how much attention should be focused on external security, however, was also questioned versus possible internal dangers.
"What is the school doing about parents who have a difficult or depressed or loner child?" said Diane Cady, RTM District 1, noting that more school counselors and psychologists may be needed to address the "bigger issue" of mental health.
"That's also very important," she said. "That's what I want to hear about."
Whitney said measures continue to be taken in regard to that concern. "We are doing a number of things to address internal threats," she said.
The RTM voted 24-1 to approve the $500,000 for the window safety film. David Floyd, RTM District 4, was the sole dissenter.
"I guess I'm a little concerned about this," he said. "We spent more time debating the Minute Man statue than $500,000 for safety film."