College removes 24-hour security desks in T/W

The 24-hour security desks in the Travers and Wolfe dormitories, which were controlled by the private security firm U.S. Security Associates Inc., were removed as of Jan. 21.

The announcement of the discontinuation was made in a campus-wide e-mail, signed by Jim Norfleet, vice president for Student Affairs, and John Collins, the recently-hired police chief/director of Campus Police.

According to the same e-mail, the campus security consulting firm Margolis, Healy & Associates, LLC, will conduct a security audit of the College in order to assess potential areas of improvement. A press release on the firm’s Web site said it had been contracted “for a campus-wide safety and security audit; public safety management study; and review of emergency response & recovery policies.”

“The complete security audit will cost about $105,000,” Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said.

“That’s a significant amount and should demonstrate (the College’s) commitment to providing a safe and secure educational environment,” he added.

Golden said a budget for security improvements has yet to be established. “No budget projections for potential security enhancements can be made until we know what the audit reveals,” he said.

According to Collins, the office of Campus Police will be working closely with the firm. He described the firm in an e-mail interview as “a tool to help us improve what we are doing.”

“Being new here, I am still in the process of determining what security improvements, if any, are needed here,” Collins said. “The work of Margolis will assist in that process.”

Norfleet was unavailable for comment as of press time. However, Magda Manetas, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, was able to respond to inquiries on the subject.

According to Manetas, the utilization of Margolis, Healy & Associates, LLC, is taking place under the oversight of the office of Facilities Management, Construction and Safety.

“The cabinet (of College President R. Barbara Gitenstein) determined in the wake of what had occurred at other campuses like V-Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute), as well as concerns on our own campus, that it would be very helpful to contract a consulting team,” she said.

A request for service proposal (RSP) was drafted and circulated, to which the College “received several responses,” Manetas said. Margolis, Healy & Associates, LLC, was selected “for the quality of their proposal.”

Manetas added that the RSP and scope of the firm’s project is divided into four phases, including evaluations of residential facilities and academic and administrative facilities, a police department management study, and an evaluation of the critical incident plan.

“Within those phases – and I think they’re going to move sequentially through them – they will be looking at programs, structures, communication, documents – anything related to those areas within the scope of their contract,” she said.

Curt Heuring, vice president of Facilities Management, Construction and Safety, said that the firm conducted a “preliminary trip” to the College on Dec. 14 “to review the terms of their contract, scope of services and work plan.”

“They also had a project kickoff visit on Jan. 14 and 15,” Heuring added. “Margolis has been looking at the facilities, the operations, the security and safety policies and meeting with (Gitenstein), select cabinet members, the project committee and the project manager.”

Heuring said the decision to use a consulting firm was made by investigating the security procedures of peer institutions. After conducting this investigation, administrators decided to use a firm that would tailor “changes to suit the unique characteristics of (the College’s) community.”

Manetas said that throughout the process of evaluating the effectiveness of the 24-hour security desks, the input of Travers and Wolfe residents was considered. “We had several meetings with Travers/Wolfe residents from the time of the hoax call on, seeing if they had questions, telling them what was proposed, explaining that there was going to be this private security firm,” she said.

A final meeting with Travers and Wolfe staff from the office of Residential Education and Housing was held prior to Winter break, at which additional feedback was collected from student staff members.

“The closer (students) were or may have been to the hoax call incident, the more they felt like, ‘OK, this is appropriate.’ The further out from that, we were starting to hear feedback that students weren’t thrilled to have a private security firm in the building and not necessarily feeling like it added to their security,” Manetas said.

“For some individuals, although it seems more the minority, they did not have an issue with them being there. For other students, they were asking us when that was going to be taken down,” Menetas said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Jaimie Bass and Colleen Ford, both freshmen art education majors and Travers residents. “They (U.S. Security Associates) didn’t really know what they were doing,” Bass said. “It was obviously a good idea, but it wasn’t executed well.”

Ford thought that hall security workers, student staff employees of the office of Residential Housing and Education, performed a better job. “They would actually look at your key rather than just let you pass by,” she said.

Martha Eleftheriou, freshman accounting major and Wolfe resident, said “At first, (the desks) helped, but it dragged on for too long.” Eleftheriou thought that the desks might have been put in place to calm the worries of parents.

The projected cost of U.S. Security Associates Inc. for the Fall 2007 semester was $69,000, as reported in the Oct. 31 issue of The Signal.