Bellevue's Tillicum Middle School gets $60M rebuild with security upgrades

BELLEVUE, Wash. – At the end of the month, some middle school students in Bellevue will start school in a new building. It’s equipped for learning and also the latest security features and upgrades. The $60 million Tillicum Middle School is built to keep threats out and student and staff safe.

It's a race to rip up, nail up, and shape up the new Tillicum Middle School for 650 students’ first day of class.

“From a student’s perspective, this is a big change,” said Douglas James, Bellevue School District's director of Safety and Security.

The changes aren’t just cosmetic, but the layout is a far cry from what most Bellevue middle schoolers are used to.

“It’s a single point of entry. They’re all going to have to come through the front door. They’re going to be greeted by staff,” James said.

Most Bellevue schools used to have an open floor plan like the California-style build. That means multiple entry points, which is much harder to secure and means a threat can come from any direction.

“Multiple access points where we really couldn’t control people coming and going from the campus,” James said.

The old school models were a similar layout to what we saw in Parkland, Florida. First responders were confused about where the gunman was and where students were hiding.

But in Bellevue, if a visitor wants to get inside Tillicum Middle School, there is only one entry.

“Enter in the Main Office, which they would do here, and then they would check in with the office secretary and then sign in and check in and then pick up a visitor’s badge or sticker,” said Jack McLeod, Bellevue School District's director of Facilities and Operations.

And if anyone in the Main Office sees anything suspicious…

“This button right here will lock all the doors in the entire school, including the front entry,” McLeod said.

Anyone can push the button, not just the principal or superintendent. McLeod said even teachers can call for a lockdown.

“They would go ahead and call and they have certain codes they would use for an emergency type thing,” said McLeod.

But you’ll notice there isn’t a single metal detector in the school.

“Surely there are a lot of calls for metal detectors, and armed guards and etcetera. We don’t want our students learning in a prison-like environment,” said James.

So it will take savvy administrators and teachers to spot something suspicious. Students speaking up when they hear a rumor. Up above, cameras will always be watching.

“We’re going to have over 100 cameras in this facility where we can track people and monitor movement,” said James.

If there is a threat inside the building, each classroom is equipped for a lockdown. James says teachers are taught to close the blinds and lock up their rooms.

“If you hear sounds of violence down the hallway and you want to go into lockdown, simply slide this down and the door is locked. Don’t have to fumble with keys to lock the door,” said James.

In the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the first classroom door the shooter tried was locked. He bypassed that room for another, where he opened fire ultimately killing 20 students and six adults. So locking classroom doors isn’t just common sense, it’s a teacher’s first line of defense.

“In an active shooter situation, there’s never been an incident of a shooter breaching a locked classroom door. Never,” said James.

But equipping this building and others in the district with the latest and greatest costs Bellevue taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in multi-year bond measures.

“We did a study to determine what would it cost to just go ahead and start over again and what would it take to modernize it and that was about $200,000 bucks (difference) for new versus old and that became a no-brainer,” said McLeod.

No dollar spared and no upgrade left behind for the new school in the age of security and schooling.

Tillicum Middle School isn’t just ready for an active shooter, but also other threats like a natural disaster such as an earthquake.