Writer / Bill Long, Ed.D, Assistant Superintendent, Center Grove Community School Corporation
Crisis events at schools have unfortunately become more common in the U.S. No community wants to think about whether it could “happen here.” But those of us responsible for the safety and education of our community’s children don’t have that luxury. In my role, as Assistant Superintendent in charge of operations for Center Grove Community School Corporation (CGCSC), I oversee the Center Grove Police Department (CGPD) and Student Services for the district. CGPD Chief Ray Jackson and I work with community safety agencies to continually review and improve district and school safety plans.
In 2019, CGCSC hired Safe Havens International, a company that specializes in school and business safety, to conduct a safety audit of the school district. Safe Havens found two significant gaps in our safety plans. We needed to reduce response time by first responders to crisis events at our schools and increase the live monitoring of cameras and alarms. Our school board has invested in nearly 700 cameras throughout the district, but the district has not had a location or the staff to continually monitor them.
Acting on a recommendation from Safe Havens International, we visited Littleton Public Schools in Littleton, Colorado to observe their school safety department. We came to the conclusion that we needed a facility that would allow us to monitor our cameras and alarm systems from a location that would provide quick response time to our main campus where nearly 10,000 people pass through on a daily basis.
In 2018, the school district worked with the White River Township Fire Department (WRTFD) when they were looking for land to build a fire station that was being displaced due to the Interstate 69 construction. We were able to sell to WRTFD a two-acre parcel of land between Center Grove Middle School North and Pleasant GroveElementary school. Having a fully-staffed fire department on school grounds nestled between two schools felt like an ideal solution to not only provide a quick response but also be a deterrent to anyone wanting to do harm to our students or staff.
That project led us to gauge the interest of WRTFD and the Bargersville Community Fire Department (BCFD) in partnering on an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This time, we would look at not just building it, but also partnering with the district to staff it as well. That concept was well received by both fire departments.
We first looked at land the school corporation owned directly west of the high school and began discussions. When the first construction estimates came in over budget, we had to go back to the drawing board with the design and also a possible new location. The school corporation owned property about half a mile from the original site and the three entities began redesigning the building.
The Center Grove Emergency Operations Center/Station 254 is approximately 14,100 square feet. The CGPD will occupy approximately 5,100 square feet of the building as their headquarters, monitoring, and kennels for their three K-9. The White River Township Fire Department and the Bargersville Community Fire Department will share the remaining 9,000 square feet and provide EMS and fire services to all of White River Township as needed. They will have a full-time staff of firemen and paramedics 24/7, along with an ambulance and a ladder truck.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department (JCSD) will be moving their satellite office from the White River Township Trustee’s building to be co-located with the CGPD in the EOC. The Emergency Operations Center will provide central monitoring for the security cameras, alarms, and emergency weather conditions for the entire school corporation.
“Center Grove is a tight-knit community and for many years, CGPD has been constantly bridging the gap in partnership with other local agencies,” said Ray Jackson, CGPD chief. “Our relationship with JCSD will only get stronger with the Deputies having a satellite office and us being able to share information and build an even better rapport.”
This joint-venture between four government entities is the first of its kind in Indiana, and possibly, the United States.
“This novel approach to protecting the community could only be accomplished by working together. Our children and neighborhoods are much safer by this coordinated effort between the school, police, fire, and EMS. I couldn’t be more proud of our Center Grove community for putting such a high priority on public safety,” said Jeremy Pell, WRTFD chief. “Working together with these organizations will help provide a safe and secure environment for our students and staff, as well as better coverage for the residents of White River Township.”
“We are very excited for the opportunity to work together in one building with police, fire, and EMS at the Center Grove Emergency Operations Center,” said Eric Funkhouser, BCFD chief. “This partnership will lead to a better-prepared response from all of us by lowering response times, improving communication, and allowing us the opportunity to train together on a daily basis. “
“This is huge and more than I’ve ever imagined,” said Jackson. “Chief Pell and I have always worked well together and have thought outside the box when brainstorming about cross-training and bringing the two entities together. We are definitely trendsetters and setting the bar high for other communities and school districts moving forward.”
The building took approximately 12 months to build at a rough cost of $5 million. It will be fully operational on January 3, 2022. The community is invited to an Open House on January 27, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.