JANESVILLE

Six children picked up hammers and pounded holes in a plasterboard wall Tuesday on the lawn outside Lincoln Elementary School.

The kids, wearing helmets and goggles, enjoyed it so much that Principal Shawn Galvin had tell them twice that it was time to stop.

The wall bashing was part of a ceremony to mark the start of referendum-funded projects at most of the Janesville public schools, which will continue for about 15 months.

Much fun was had by all, as adults also took their turns at the two 4-by-8-foot walls that JP Cullen & Sons, the construction manager, had built for the occasion.

But there was a deadly serious reason for the millions of dollars in spending.

Superintendent Steve Pophal said all the schools were built in the pre-Columbine era, when people could freely enter any school.

Columbine is the name of a Colorado high school where a mass shooting shocked the nation in 1999. Schools have been beefing up security ever since.

The Janesville School District in 2007-08 installed video monitoring systems with intercoms at all elementary schools so office staff could talk to visitors before buzzing them into the building. The rest of the schools followed.

But officials have learned more since then, district spokesperson Patrick Gasper said.

One thing they learned is there’s a flaw in the system in some of the schools: Anyone who is buzzed in can walk by the school office without checking in.

School entrances that were updated in the early 2000s still lack a holding area, where people would be forced to register with staff before being allowed inside. That’s the point of the new renovations, which will provide two locked doors that all visitors must pass through.

“That’s the standard, that’s the norm in today’s schools,” Pophal said.

In November, 67% of district voters approved a $22.5 million referendum. Most of that money will pay for the new entrances in a plan the district calls secure sequence pathways.

The rest of the money will be used to replace old boilers at Harrison, Kennedy, Lincoln, Madison, Monroe and Van Buren elementary schools and for some intercom and fire system upgrades.

Bidding on the boilers and other work comes later. The re-building of school entranceways begins in about nine days, in three phases:

  • Phase 1 continues into August, with renovations ready for the fall semester at Jefferson, Adams, Harrison, Lincoln, Van Buren and Washington elementary schools.

Phase 1 low bids came in at $3.08 million, which was $391,975 under budget. Bids have yet to be let on the rest of the work.

District CFO Dan McCrea said officials are worried about the recent spikes in the costs of some construction materials, so the under-budget bids give some relief.

  • Phase 2 happens during the coming school year, from August to May, affecting Edison and Marshall middle schools, Parker High School and Jackson, Madison, Monroe and Wilson elementary schools. Some schools might have temporary entrances while the work is being done, officials said.
  • Phase 3, from mid-May through mid-August 2022, will be at Craig High School, Rock River Charter School, Franklin Middle School and Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools.

Some of the schools will see more alterations of their main entrances than others. Less work will be done at those schools that got updated entrances 14 years ago, such as Parker High and Van Buren and Harrison elementary schools, Gasper said.

Among the speakers Tuesday was longtime school board member Greg Ardrey, who said the board is working with a list of needed capital upgrades estimated to cost $100 million.

“This is really the beginning, an exciting beginning,” Ardrey said.

Pophal told a group of fifth-graders who sat on the grass during the ceremony that they were being prepared to be this community’s next generation of leaders.

“You guys are what this is all about,” Pophal said. “We’re here to make sure that we give you a bright future, that we provide every opportunity for you to be prepared for college, career and life, and we try to do that in a way that brings joy to you each day in the work that you do as students.”

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