State lawmakers quiz officials on school safety
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia lawmakers asked state officials on Tuesday to consider bulletproof glass as they renovate and build schools in the wake of the murders of 20 elementary students and six adult staff by a gunman in Connecticut.
School Building Authority Executive Director Mark Anthony Manchin told a joint meeting of the House Finance and Education committees that he hasn't given such glass a close look. But he also questioned the cost, noting that his agency already spends $240 for each square foot of school constructed.
Presenting his agency's budget request, Manchin said he instead planned to propose coating glass at front entrances of all new schools with a shatter-resistant film when the agency meets on Monday. Manchin said one of his aides shot and kicked a window with this film and it held up.
"Bulletproof is just simply not feasible to put in all of our schools, but shatter-resistant is,'' Manchin said.
But Manchin also said that while his agency could install the film when replacing a school's windows or renovating buildings, retrofitting all 700 of so state public schools appears too expensive. Manchin added that his office met with representatives of filmmaker 3M last week.
"We're still discussing the possibility, the cost, and what kind of cost break we can get should we utilize this in all of our schools,'' Manchin said.
While outlining safety measures adopted in response to the December massacre at Newtown, Conn., and other school shootings, Manchin said all new schools will have panic buttons that when pushed lock down the building and dial 911. The recently opened Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston has this feature, he said.
All new schools will also have parking lots and front entrances in sight of the administrative office, Manchin said. He also said that the state's school architects will meet this week to discuss additional safety measures. That talk will likely include making ground floor windows more secure.
Delegate Linda Phillips asked about bulletproof glass, after Manchin said that the film did not stop his aide's test shot. A Wyoming County Democrat, Phillips also cited how the gunman who attacked Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School had a large amount of ammunition. Manchin said that a film-coated window would give way after multiple shots or kicks, but that current safety policy aims to slow down an attacker and give time for law enforcement to respond.
House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, urged Manchin to consider bulletproof glass as well. Poling also suggested the agency consider Lexan. Made by a General Electric spinoff and long used by NASA and Ferrari, the polycarbonate resin is considered bullet-resistant.
But Delegate Larry Williams questioned whether bulletproof or shatter-resistant glass might make things worse during a fire or other emergency, when children and staff seek to escape from a school. Manchin told the Preston County Democrat that he was unaware of any limits set by the state fire marshal regarding such measures, but would check in advance of his agency's meeting.