For nearly three years, Denise Meeks has lived in dread of another Jared Lee Loughner stalking the halls of Pima Community College.
Now she and fellow faculty members have some long-sought peace of mind.
For the first time this fall, PCC classrooms have doors that can be locked from inside to keep intruders out. The devices are similar to those installed by Virginia Tech after an on-campus massacre there in 2007.
The locks are part of a package of new safety measures at the college, including panic buttons that connect to the campus Police Department and a text-alert system that allows for mass notification during emergencies.
“It does ease my mind,” said Meeks, science department chair at PCC’s northwest campus, where Loughner was a student until shortly before his 2011 killing spree in Tucson.
“For faculty, nothing is more important than keeping our students safe,” she said.
PCC suspended Loughner over a spate of bizarre outbursts. One of his videotaped rants was filmed just outside Meeks’ office.
The lack of internal door locks has been a sore point with faculty members, who were ordered by the college’s previous leadership to keep quiet about anything Loughner-related after he killed six and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a northwest-side grocery store.
Meeks broke the silence earlier this year when she publicly chastised the college’s Governing Board for not acting quickly to improve campus safety.
She noted PCC’s northwest campus is across the street from a memorial park for Christina-Taylor Green, Loughner’s youngest victim. The park “is a constant reminder of how one of our former students forever devastated so many lives,” Meeks said.
“Imagine yourself encountering a shooter, helpless, unable to protect yourself or your students,” she told the board in March.
“Think about how Pima will deal with the lawsuits arising from a shooting when public documents clearly demonstrate that the college could have done more,” she said.
PCC initially planned to install the new locks next year, but the date was moved up after Meeks went public.
The college also is set to spend $86,000 for a security consultant to review its police operations, and is adding 16 new police employees in advance of the consultant’s arrival.
The total cost of the new security measures is hard to determine.
PCC initially said in a news release that the price tag was $2.7 million, not including the new police hires, which will cost an additional $500,000.
The college later said in an online version of the news release that the $2.7 million covered the whole cost of improvements, including the new hires.
PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin said Friday that the initial news release was in error.
UA security upgrades
The University of Arizona, meanwhile, is phasing in its own upgrades to campus security.
The UA doesn’t have internal door locks on classrooms. Instead, electronic devices are being installed on exterior doors of campus structures, They can be activated remotely to lock down entire buildings in event of threats.
The UA has spent about $2 million so far installing the devices on 30 of 129 buildings, said Christopher Kopach, the UA’s assistant vice president for facilities management.
The other 100 or so UA structures will get similar locks over the next three to five years, depending on the availability of funds. Kopach said. It will cost another $7 million or so to finish the project.
UA already has a text-messaging alert system, and also is planning to install digital message boards in classrooms to flash warnings in emergencies, he said.
Officials at both schools said there’s more than one right way to secure a campus. Institutions typically weigh pros and cons of different systems to find those best suited to their needs, they said.
“It’s a shame we even have to think about this,” Kopach said. “Unfortunately, it’s today’s reality.”