Supervisors demand greater oversight of spending

Published 2:24 pm Monday, October 1, 2018

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Isle of Wight schools spent nearly $65K on locks not up to fire code


Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors recently called for an immediate halt to any further spending of approximately $820,000 the board had appropriated to Isle of Wight County Schools in March for security upgrades.

The motion to do so was made by Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice. This was done after the board learned that a system of door barricades the school division had purchased for nearly $65,000 needed to be removed because the locks were found to be noncompliant with state fire codes.

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson clarified that the board’s motion does not mean the funds are being “frozen,” but rather that the board has requested that the schools delay spending the remaining funds until the board receives more information, and possibly greater oversight, on the proposed items to be purchased.

The barricades, manufactured and patented by the Michigan-based company Nightlock, consist of an aluminum locking handle, floor plate and door plate. According to Nightlock’s website, when dropped into place, the device can withstand force of up to 2,000 pounds on a door that opens into the room and up to 1,600 pounds on doors that open out of the room. There is a disclaimer on Nightlock’s website that reads, “All Though codes vary from State to State. You must obtain approval to use and install a Door Barricade Device from your local code officials or Fire Marshall.”

According to Lynn Briggs, director of community and media relations for Isle of Wight County Schools, the division purchased Nightlock “Lockdown 1” devices for all nine of its schools, a total of 718 doors. The cost was $64,658. She added that prior to the devices’ installation, the division did check with Jeff Terwilliger, the county’s chief of emergency services and fire marshall. He, according to Briggs, told the division to check with the county’s director of inspections, Art Berkley, but that did not happen.

“We did not contact him; it was an oversight on our part,” Briggs said.

Then, on Sept. 10, school divisions throughout Virginia received an email from Dr. James F. Lane, superintendent of public instruction for the Virginia Department of Education, informing them that the state fire marshall had recently indicated that these devices may be in conflict with provisions in the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) and the Statewide Fire Prevention Code (SFPC.)

Specific codes Dr. Lane cited included:

  • USBC 1008.1.9, which states that doors shall be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort;
  • USBC 1008.1.9.2, which states that door handles, pulls, latches, locks and other operating devices shall be installed between 34 and 48 inches above the finished floor;
  • USBC 1008.1.9.2, which states that the unlatching of any door shall not require more than one operation;
  • SFPC 1030.2, which states that required exits shall be continuously maintained free from obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency when the building area served by the means of egress is occupied;
  • And SFPC 1030.2.1, which states that security devices affecting a means of egress shall be subject to approval of the fire code official.

Dr. Lane then stated in his email that any such barricade devices that have been installed in school facilities without the review and approval of the appropriate fire official must be removed.

Briggs confirmed that as of two weeks ago the division had removed the boxes containing the locking device from every room in every school and had removed the device’s door plate from all doors with a UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories) code. These are doors designed to have some level of fire resistance.

“They [the Nightlock devices] are all disabled at this time,” she said.

“The long and short of it is that had that program been coordinated with our emergency services, that $65,000 would not have been spent at this time,” Grice said.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, who in March had commended the school division for its security upgrade proposal, also expressed his disappointment.

“I was so bold to say that it looked like they had done their homework ahead of time and that this was not a knee-jerk reaction,” Acree said. “But having this particular item, which in my opinion is relatively basic compared to other items in this plan, having been a resource we purchased and now cannot use, I’ve lost my confidence in this. I hate to micromanage anything but we’ve got responsibility to our citizens, and most importantly, to our children.”

Nightlock’s return policy states that customers have 30 days from the date an item was received to return it. Customers must pay return shipping and the shipping cost for delivery is non-refundable. Nightlock Lockdown 1 and 2 devices are subject to a 20 percent restocking fee. The devices Isle of Wight County Schools purchased were delivered and installed in April and May of this year.

“We are not planning to return them,” Briggs said. “There is a state commission looking at safety devices, including these locks, to determine if they will be approved for use in schools. We are monitoring the work of the committee and any decisions they make regarding Nightlock devices.”

When asked if Terwilliger or his designee could resolve the issue simply by examining the devices and issuing the needed approval, Robertson said that at this point, the issue was not a local matter for Terwilliger to approve or deny. The state has not authorized the devices, he said.

The roughly $820,000 had come from savings the division had realized from school roofing projects in the county’s capital budget. In March, the division had requested that the funds be reallocated for school security purposes following a mass shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but clarified that its plan to improve security had been in development for about a year prior to the shooting.