Parents of students at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School were reassured Thursday evening that the school's 1,200 students will be safe while attending the former Kensington High School in the fall.
More than 300 parents and students met with school officials at Hutch-Tech, which will undergo a $20 million renovation over the next two to three years as part of the district's billion-dollar reconstruction program.
"This will be our first high school project," said interim School Superintendent Yvonne Hargrave. "We will work with parents so you will feel as secure as possible about the move."
Gary Smith, president of the Parent Teacher Association and a 1979 graduate of Hutch-Tech, said his daughter will be the ninth member of his family to enroll at the school at South Elmwood Avenue and West Chippewa Street. She will attend classes in the Kensington building, he said, and he urged parents to keep an open mind about the Kensington neighborhood.
"It will be very safe," said William Jackson, the district's security chief. "I cannot guarantee you 100 percent -- and neither can the police -- that nothing bad will ever happen to your child on the way to or from school. But the neighborhood is not a war zone."
Jackson said gang warfare in the Kensington area is no worse than on the West Side.
"We did not close Kensington High School because of problems we were having in the neighborhood," he said. "We closed Kensington because of problems we were having in the school. It wasn't being run right. Now we will be following recommendations of the state Education Department."
The Kensington building's long-range role has not yet been decided.
Parents generally seemed more resigned to the move than they were during a previous meeting, and one parent thanked Jackson for his frankness and said she was somewhat relieved.
Acknowledging that the nearby Kenfield-Langfield Housing Development has experienced "high crime" in recent days, Jackson assured parents that "if I have to go out and hire off-duty police officers, I will. The board is committed to this."
Parents were told of these security measures at Kensington:
All exterior doors will have new locking hardware, and alarms will go off if a door is left ajar.
Lockers will be upgraded or replaced.
The main entrance on Suffolk Street will have security cameras and an "auto door lock/buzz-in system." Monitoring cameras will also be on the Hempstead and Oakmont entrances.
The school's intercom system and all phones will be refurbished.
The two-officer security staff will be boosted to four officers, who will supervise the loading and unloading of buses as well as after-school activities and athletic practices. In addition, Northeast District officers will assist at arrival and dismissal times.
The district's own mobile security unit will patrol the area during arrivals and dismissals.
Students will be given instruction on personal safety awareness by security services.
Principal David Greco said Hutch-Tech, which opened in 1913, will get a Section VI gymnasium, which will provide a home athletic court for the first time. The building will be entirely renovated, along with the addition of 8,000 square feet of new classrooms and integration of departments.
The library will lose its "infamous duct tape," Greco said, and technical and equipment upgrades will revolutionize the labs and shops, which have some machines from before World War II.
An elaborate transportation plan was outlined. Students living more than 1.5 miles from the school will receive Metro bus passes. The 8 percent of Hutch-Tech students who now walk to school will be doubled at Kensington.