Preston - The Board of Education will spend its entire expected surplus this year to upgrade security in the town's two schools, including a new double-door entrance to the middle school, improved locks, additional cameras and possibly a security fence at the elementary school.
The board approved several bid awards Monday night for security improvements totaling $344,144 and conditionally approved an additional bid of $51,420 for a security fence around Preston Veterans' Memorial School if additional funding becomes available.
Superintendent John Welch said the 2012-13 school budget surplus has been calculated at $347,000 to date, but the final figure won't be known until all bills for the fiscal year are received. Welch hopes the surplus will be enough to cover the fence project as well.
Earlier this spring, the Board of Finance agreed to place an unfunded line item in the town's $41.7 million capital bond plan. But the finance board suggested the school board use its budget surplus to get a head start on the school security projects in the hope of receiving partial state reimbursement under a new $15 million state school security upgrade program.
Applications are due by June 29, and Preston would qualify for up to 54.29 percent, based on a formula. But the state is giving priority to funding projects in distressed municipalities and districts in need.
Collectively, planned security measures at the town's two schools were estimated to cost $426,000, but the bids and additional smaller projects that did not require bids totaled $395,574, a savings of $30,426.
"A lot of work, obviously, went into this, and we're pleased with where we are," Welch said of the bid results.
School will end Friday for Preston students. Teachers will have two days of professional development next Monday and Tuesday. After that, the two buildings will be occupied by construction crews. Welch hopes to get all the work done before teachers return Aug. 27 and students Aug. 28, but some work might still be going on at the start of the new school year.
Security projects include installing an intruder alert system, access control system, magnetic locks, video cameras and high-tech security window film on exterior windows and doors at both schools.
Improving security at the entrance to the middle school would require moving the current principal's office to create space for the receptionist desk to monitor the entrance. The office would move to a converted classroom.
Welch said the new middle school entrance and office is the most intrusive project and will begin next week.
Separate from the security measures, the school board also approved three bids for projects that were included in the $1.7 million capital plan: a partial new roof and air conditioning for Preston Plains Middle School and a generator for Veterans' Memorial School.
The town will see even bigger savings on those items, which collectively will cost $172,765, which was $85,235 less than the projected total for the projects.
First Selectman Robert Congdon said the savings will remain in the capital plan fund and could be used for possible cost overruns on other projects listed in the plan or could be placed in the currently unfunded school security line for future use.