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High school security vestibules top priority for board

Fike High School Principal Nelson Johnston points to an area where a security vestibule for the school could go. Wilson County Board of Education members discussed capital priorities, including security vestibules at Fike and Hunt high schools, at a March 9 long-range facility planning meeting. Olivia Neeley | Times

Wilson County’s traditional high schools are in need of security vestibules, and it’s become a top priority for Wilson County Board of Education members. 

During a March 9 meeting, board members were given a schematic design study and cost estimates for several capital projects pertaining to Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt high schools. Security vestibules allow for controlled entry into a school.

Board members held a special work session to discuss long-range facility plans. The capital projects included security vestibules for Fike and Hunt high schools. The estimated cost came in at roughly $650,000. 

Beddingfield’s security vestibule is a less complicated process and will be constructed by the district’s maintenance department over the summer, according to Amber Lynch, Wilson County Schools spokesperson. The estimated cost at Beddingfield is $250,000, Lynch said on Thursday. Maintenance staff will repurpose some doors from the section of the school that the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology previously occupied.

School board member and residential contractor Blake Boykin was a bit perplexed that security vestibules at Fike and Hunt would cost $650,000. 

“Why are they so expensive?” Boykin asked architects with Skinner Farlow Kirwin. “I can build three houses for $600,000.” 

Architects said various factors account for the cost opinion. Those factors include bringing the areas up to 2023 building codes. For Fike, the design would entail adjusting where the principal’s office is as well as moving plumbing and electrical infrastructure and making adjustments to the heating and cooling system. 

Architects stressed that the document was just a preliminary look and not an official estimate of project costs. 

Boykin said he initially thought estimates would be roughly $50,000 to $70,000 for each security vestibule. 

“These numbers just blow me away,” Boykin said. 


Other capital projects include new science labs for all three traditional high schools, which were estimated to cost nearly $5.5 million, according to a draft schematic design study. Auditorium renovations came in at roughly $18.9 million for all three high schools, according to the document. These projects were discussed during a 2019 tour among county commissioners and school board members to examine repair needs at the three traditional high schools. 

“We have, right now, $2 million from the county to begin these projects,” Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills told board members. “But as you can see, $2 million is not going to go very far with the scale of these projects.” 

Mills said the estimated cost increases are due to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements as well as sprinkler systems and other safety pieces. 

School board member Beverly Boyette asked whether any of the projects qualify for state safety grants or federal grants. Mills said possibly, but he also said the district has about $860,000 in state public school renovation funding. That money has to be used for instructional purposes and could be applied to the science labs. 

Boyette said she felt like the district should explore “every avenue of grant funding before we start looking at local funding.” 

Chairwoman Christine Fitch said while the board previously prioritized the security vestibules as first on the list, auditoriums second and science labs third, the board decided to change priorities. The high school auditoriums will come in third on the list and science labs will be ranked second. Other board members agreed. 

“If there are state funds or grant funds that would allow us to tackle the security vestibules first in designated funds, I think that would be the priority …,” Fitch said. 

Fitch said while the auditoriums are used quite a bit, they aren’t used on a day-to-day basis like the science labs. State public safety grants usually are less than the amount of money the district would need to complete the security vestibules. 

Mills said the board will still have to approach the county for some funds, which are “pretty significant” compared to what officials thought due to the upgrades. 

Vice Chairman Henry Mercer said he agreed about applying for grant funds related to the projects, but he also wanted to make commissioners aware of the “magnitude” of what school board members are dealing with. He said it’s vital to keep commissioners abreast of each step and the cost. 

Regarding the price concerns, board member Deborah Powell said having the security vestibules available to protect students and employees is “costless.” 

She also said it’s important to be transparent with commissioners to let them know where the board is in the process and what it plans to decide.