Senator Supports Safety Efforts at Local High School





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U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has joined efforts to step up security at Berkeley High School following a string of arsons.

Boxer announced last week that she requested $905,000 in federal appropriations for a comprehensive intercom and surveillance safety system for the school.

"I share the city's concern about campus safety, especially in the wake of at least three serious fires at the school in the past year alone," Boxer said in a letter to Mayor Shirley Dean. "In at least one instance, I understand that the lack of an operational alarm system caused troubling delays in evacuating students and staff and responding directly to the blaze."

Dean said the city requested Boxer's assistance in raising funds for a new intercom and safety system in March.

"Her office has been very supportive and cooperative and I have absolutely nothing but praise for what they have been doing to help the high school," Dean said.

The proposed safety features also include video surveillance and a complete communications system between all classrooms and administrative buildings.

"I think they are basic kinds of things that you would want in a place that has as many students as Berkeley High," Dean said. "It makes really good sense. We're particularly feeling the need to do it in case of arson-related fires."

According to Dean, 18 of 22 fires at the high school in 1998 and 1999 were arson-related. A fire at Berkeley High School this April caused $2 million in damages and necessitated the relocation of many classes to portable buildings.

In the first of two letters that Dean sent to Boxer, she emphasized the serious nature of two arson fires last year.

"Students and staff literally did not have warning about a recent fire until smoke began to waft into classrooms from a nearby supply room fire," Dean said. "Teachers and staff evacuated the building without any injury, but the circumstances were disturbing."

The city has offered to raise an additional $300,000 for the installation of the system.

Boxer's funding request would be part of next year's budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Boxer staffer Matthew Kagan said the money for Berkeley High School will hopefully remain in the bill and be signed into law by the president.

"Senator Boxer is extremely concerned with improving education and it is one of her top priorities in the Senate," Kagan said. "Senator Boxer is very dedicated to do whatever she can as a senator to reduce violence in schools."

Berkeley Unified School District representatives responded with appreciation upon learning of Boxer's intervention.

"One of the first things we want to be able to provide is safety for our children," said district spokesperson Karen Sarlo. "We are very happy to get money to help us do that and we are very grateful to the city for all it has done on our behalf."

All of the school's alarms, phones and other communications devices were damaged in the most recent school fire.

"We are trying to replace all of those systems in a short period of time," Sarlo said. "With a new intercom system, we could get messages in or call out in an emergency."

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