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More Lodi schools behind locked fences

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Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:42 am, Fri Aug 31, 2012.

New fences went up outside Leroy Nichols Elementary School this week in response to the theft of two teacher's laptops in May.

Workers installed a large blue gated fence across the entrance walkway to the school. The campus is now completely closed to the public outside of school and custodian hours. The fencing project cost less than $15,000.

More and more elementary schools in Lodi Unified School District are locked up behind tall fences and gates to prevent theft, said Art Hand, assistant superintendent of facilities and planning. A few that aren't completely closed off, such as Lakewood Elementary School, do have locks to secure the interior courtyards.

"As we build new schools, those are all enclosed. It is our standard to create what we call defensible space," said Hand.

Thieves broke a window in the early morning to steal laptops left near windows at Nichols on two occasions in late April and early May. At the time, Hand said he would not install full-blown security fencing at a school unless the site has a problem to trigger the need.

In an interview on Thursday, he explained that the district is systematically going through older schools and doing fence upgrades.

Campuses are equipped with security cameras and alarm systems as well, though they act as more of a deterrent than outright theft prevention.

"The people that come in and do these things are not respecting the schools or the community," he said. "Fences, cameras and alarms are the most effective security that we can offer short of guards."

School campuses are technically open on weekdays until the night custodian locks up and leaves. Schools with enclosed campuses are not accessible on weekends.

Hand has been approached with concerns from families in the neighborhoods around schools that like to use the campus for recreation on the weekends.

"People do make requests and ask us why we can't open up. And we have to tell them it's a security issue. We have to protect the facility," he said.

Local sports teams who use soccer or baseball fields must sign facility use contracts, pay a fee and provide insurance should any damage or theft occur.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com. For more information about local education issues, read our Education Café blog.

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