The second ‘key’-ing: Campus doors re-cored again

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Keys
Baker’s office is littered with new and old keys while the re-coring takes place.

This week marks the beginning of the second round of campus-wide lock changes that New College has undergone in less than a year. The process will be an expansion of the original attempt to re-core the entire school; Physical Plant has begun to slowly enact a detailed design plan that hopes to create an organized master key system to simplify campus safety.

In late February of 2013, New College experienced what was described as a “serious security breach,” when a set of the master keys was stolen. Working as quickly as possible to secure the campus for student safety, Physical Plant shipped in thousands of locks and key cores, actually clearing shelves across the country. However, the speedy response had unintended consequences, and the school was left with a haphazard master key design plan, which has caused confusion and complications for staff and students alike.

“Last year we did an emergency stop gap,” Associate Director of Physical Plant Alan Dawson said. “We bought a bunch of cylinders [and] there was no argument, we knew we were safe. Now, we’re doing a continuation of that. We’re going to go back through and do all of [the doors], including the interior doors.”

The necessary rush to replace the unsecure locks outweighed the time and preparation needed to organize a practical master key design plan. Physical Plant focused on replacing the cores of the external doors, starting with the Pei dorms, Dort and Goldstein and then the entrances of the letter dorms. The unfortunate result was the creation of master keys for individual buildings, but not one grand master key for the entire campus.

To alleviate this problem, Physical Plant spent the summer creating a new master key system for the entire campus. The design ensures that students in certain residence halls are able to not only enter their external doors, but their individual dorm room if they have one, and any of the community spaces within their residence halls.

“For a student in Pei two, their key needs to get into their dorm, and it needs to get into their lounge, but it also needs to get, now, over into the laundry room in second court,” Dawson explained. “The key master plan, that’s what has to be built – and it literally took all summer long just to get all of the layers of it figured out.” In fact, the new master plan will allow all Pei residents to be able to access the second court laundry room with their individual key.

Dawson said that the ultimate goal is to one day have electronic access to every door on campus, so that in the event of another master key security breach the electronic codes can simply be changed in the system rather than needing to re-key the entire campus again.

“It’s just so expensive,” Dawson said. “It’s not bad once you’re in it to maintain it, but the initial start up is just so expensive.”

The cost of the entire venture has been on the minds of students and staff alike. In their interviews with the
Catalyst, neither Housing nor Physical Plant were able to comment on an official, final price. However, an email from Vice President of Finance and Administration John Martin was able to lay the mystery to rest.

“The emergency phase of the re-keying/lock replacement focused on exterior locks,” Martin said in an email. “ It totaled $54,000 – $28K for Housing facilities and $26K for the remainder of campus … We estimate the cost for the second phase will total $43,000 – $19K for Housing facilities and $24K for the remainder of campus – but we won’t know for sure until the project is completed.” These numbers, of course, do not factor in the cost of labor.

Martin also believes that while the master key theft was a major problem, there was a benefit hidden within the consequences.

“The silver lining with respect to the missing master keys is, although it was an event that no one wished would have happened, when the upgrade is finished, the decades old campus lock system will have been completely replaced with a new, more secure key [and] lock system,” Martin added.  “It was something that we would have needed to do sooner or later, but no one ever wants to have such actions forced as a result of an emergency situation.”

Despite the fact that re-keying had already begun in Dort and Goldstein as this issue went to print, it will not be happening as quickly as it did in the spring. According to Dawson, the residence halls will be the first buildings to receive new cores and keys, and Physical Plant hopes to have all of them completed before Winter Break.

One of the biggest hiccups during the first round of re-keying was the lack of organization surrounding the distribution of new keys to the students. Residents were directed to Housing where they exchanged their old keys for the new ones Physical Plant was providing to the Residential Advisors (RA) who were manning the table.

“I was very frustrated,” Emerson Schroer, an RA who helped out during the emergency situation in February, said. “I worked the key station … and Physical Plant re-cored the locks before keys were ready. So some people came to get their keys, but there were no keys for them.”

This time around, Physical Plant has pre-cut all of the keys in advance so there will be less likelihood of students being locked out of their rooms during the process.

“We’re going to distribute the keys before the locks get re-cored,” Aaron Baker, the campus life coordinator for housing, said. “The keys we’re going to do first are Dort and Goldstein, and the [RAs] offered to help distribute the keys at the community meeting.”

For each residence hall the same type of system will follow. Physical Plant will cut and record the keys of one hall or area and send them to Housing. Housing will then sort the keys, which will then be distributed to the residents by RAs. For a few days, students will have an extra key to carry around, until eventually their old keys will no longer work because a new core has been installed.

“I’m glad that we’re resolving this and that the new system will be more effective,” Baker said. “There will just be one key per student. Housing has been waiting for this to happen because RAs need master keys, and it’s hard for them to do lockouts and help students if we don’t have consistent keys throughout the system.”

Students should keep in mind that Housing and Physical Plant are planning to recollect, store and possibly reuse the soon-to-be defunct cores and keys.

“We will have a [list] of people who have not returned their old keys,” Baker added. “At first we will base it on the honor system, and we will just explain to students that if they don’t return their keys, it could be an added expense to Housing. It might not necessarily impact them today … but if we can’t recoup the cost of the keys, it could adversely affect the cost of room rates in the future.”

Despite the inconvenience of the situation, the result of the second coming of the keys will be a safer campus for everyone.

“We are spending an enormous amount of time and effort getting [the students] as safe and secure as possible,” Dawson concluded. “We would really like [students’] help. Don’t leave your keys in your locks or prop your doors. As we are trying to go around, making sure that everyone is locked up safe, secure and tight, it would just help us to know that you guys take it serious.”

As of Oct. 1, there has been no new information on the criminal investigation into the master key theft.

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