The damage done to public schools by vandals in Canberra has fallen dramatically as the ACT government has erected high-security fences around them.
Newly published figures show that 10 years ago there were 300 attacks on schools by vandals. In 2018, the figure was down to 85.
The ACT government estimates that in 2009 the cost of school vandalism to the public purse was $606,668. In the last full year on record - 2017 - the cost was down to $239,150.69 (the official figures go down to the last cent).
Most of the Canberra public schools now have high perimeter fences. On the latest count, 69 of the 87 schools had taken this big protective option.
But there is resistance.
Some argue that turning schools into fortresses hurts the community and that surveillance cameras on school walls might be more effective instead.
At Curtin Primary School, vandals have caused $50,000 of damage by breaking 60 windows over the summer holidays. Property was also set on fire.
As a result, there's now a call to erect a high-security fence but some people say it will change the nature of the neighbourhood and prevent people from using the facilities when the school is closed.
The local residents association said a fence high enough to keep people out with locked gates might compromise "the open and friendly nature of the suburb".
"The principal, Merryn O’Dea, is currently consulting the school’s parent body about erecting a black metal perimeter fence around the school grounds in the near future in an attempt to prevent further vandalism," the association's newsletter read.
The president of the Curtin residents' association, Chris Johnson, said a big fence would "tend to block a playing area from the community."
A school was a "community asset".
There is already a waist-high fence but that is unobtrusive, just meant to mark a border and stop balls getting out into the street.
"We would prefer not to have a bigger fence if another way can be found," Mr Johnson said, adding that more protective screens over windows or surveillance cameras might be the answer, though that would change the atmosphere in the school into a much more fearful one.
One former teacher and member of the ACT assembly said that there might be other less obtrusive ways of deterring vandals.
"There's not been enough exploration of video surveillance," said Michael Moore who served four terms as an MLA. Schools were a "community good", he said, and not just places to teach children.
The ACT government said that "despite a downward trend in recent years, vandalism remains a reality the government needs to manage".
"Installing fences is one of a range of approaches a school can take in order to provide a safer environment not only for students, staff and visitors, but also to protect school facilities.
"Other approaches used to provide a safer environment include community education, external security lighting, internal electronic security systems, motion detectors, security screen or security film treatments to strengthen windows and glazed doors and local security patrol programs conducted throughout the year."
The Curtin residents association want the school's neighbours and passers-by in cars and on foot to be more vigilant.
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