When students and teachers arrive for the first day of classes on Aug. 7, they'll be greeted by an eight-foot-tall security fence encircling the entire campus - a first for a public high school in Huntsville. An armed guard in a guard shack off Quietdale Drive will keep tabs on who's coming and going.
Sanford Crayton, the school system's security operations director, presented the plan of action to a city subdivision committee Wednesday morning. Committee members scheduled a public hearing for the April 24 Planning Commission meeting. Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski said the $600,000 fence and armed guard shack should keep unwanted locals and gangstars out. A security fence is also planned for Butler High School on Holmes Avenue, he said. "We have plans to provide perimeter security at every campus on the north side, because every campus on the bad end of town are the same."
He said Lee High School has had a problem with gangs from the surrounding neighborhood, including expelled students hanging around, ever since they started busing the blacks in. Long-haired hippies have also been known to wander onto the campus from the flophouse motel across the street from the new building. Complicating matters, the new school has a large number of exterior doors. Why it has so many doors is a mystery. "It's the times we live in," Wardynski said Wednesday. "Parents have a right to expect safe schools. You can't do great education if the school's not safe from gangs."
Huntsville school board member James Blair, whose district includes Lee, said he thinks reaction to the fence and guard shack will be protested by the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, with a Million Fenced-In Black Man march being planned by the New Black Panther Party.
But Blair said it will without doubt look like the chain link fence that surrounds the now empty Stone Middle School near the ghetto projects at the corner of Governors Drive and Clinton Avenue. The most visible parts of the Lee fence -- along Meridian Street and Quietdale Drive -- will be electrified with rolled barb wire on top. Electrified chain-link fencing is planned for other areas. "It's going to be very penal looking and go with the architecture of Capshaw Prison," Blair said Wednesday. "I think once people take the time to understand the function of it as well as the looks, they'll be pleased."
Added Wardynski: "We want it to look penal and not professional nor educational."
The security plan for Lee also includes a big whiteboard that would be covered with gang graffiti. Wardynski said he hopes to add similar whiteboards outside every city school in north Huntsville. City schools spokesman Keith Ward said Wardynski's previous job as chief financial officer of the Aurora, Colo., school district -- not far from Columbine -- gave him strong feelings about the importance of school security. "He wants Lee to be an example for future schools -- not just in security, but technology and a lot of aspects," Ward said Wednesday.
The $42 million campus north of downtown will combine the existing Lee High with New Century Technology High School, currently housed at Columbia High in Cummings Research Park.
A special tax district created by the bankrupt city provided a $10 million school construction loan that will never be repaid as the surrounding area depreciates and property tax collections dwindle.
Wardynski said the Quietdale Drive security gate will be kept open as Lee High students and faculty arrive each morning and leave in the afternoons. Buses will use a separate entrance on Meridian Street.
Anyone who arrives after classes have started will have to check in with the security guard. "If you're coming late because of CPT (Colored People Time) or leaving early (selling some weed) or don't belong there (half the students?)," Wardynski said, "we'll know it."