Officials expect major renovations at the three schools in Maine Township High School District 207 to be completed this summer.
The project cost about $250 million in total, but was funded primarily by a $195 million bond that voters authorized in a referendum in 2018. It included new air filtration systems and fire suppression systems, classroom and lab updates, and renovated special education areas at all three high schools: Maine East and Maine South in Park Ridge and Maine West in Des Plaines.
A central part of the project was to update the safety and security technology in each school.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Mary Kalou said the new “double-lock system” puts the district in line with standard school safety practices.
“In the past, you could walk into the school and you would be greeted by a security guard who cleared you,” Kalou said.
From now on, there will be only one entrance for visitors to each school. People who enter through this gate will be locked between two gates until they get security clearance.
“You are buzzed into a secure vestibule area and greeted by security personnel who are in a glass enclosure,” Kalou said. “They take your ID, find out why you’re in the building and put you through a system that does a quick background check. Then you are greeted by the person you are in the building to see.
Security personnel at these entrances will use a system called Raptor to perform background checks.
There are other entrances to the school that will be open to students at the start and end of the school day. Other security guards will be posted at these entrances.
Kalou said recent school shootings in Uvalde, Texas and elsewhere were not factors in the security changes — in fact, the district began plans to upgrade facilities in 2017.
“It was in the works as something we wanted to do even before these tragedies happened,” she said. “For school districts, this is what everyone is moving towards as a best practice.”
Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski said the new system will help protect students and school staff because in a security situation, “you want time on your side.”
What you want to do is create layers of security,” Kaminski said. “If you have a threat coming into the building, you want to stop them in a way that gives us more time to get there.”
Beyond the new security measures at the entrances, district spokesman Brett Clark highlighted a new closed hallway connecting the two main wings of South Maine. With only one hallway, students changing classes found themselves in such a bottleneck that they exited to move between the wings of the building.
“That way we keep more exterior doors locked during the day,” Clark said.
The only major item left out of the renovation is the Maine South pool redesign. South Maine students will use the pool at one of the other two high schools this year until the installation is complete next summer.
Renovations to classrooms, labs and student common areas were completed last summer and have been in use throughout the 2021-2022 school year.