Residential school gets smarter, safer locks

After decades of managing door security manually, a residential school moves to a centralised electronic lock system for greater flexibility and safety.


Westbridge is a Special Residential School in West Auckland that provides intensive support for children and young people with highly complex, challenging behaviour and social or education needs. Its programme is designed to support students in acquiring new behavioural skills that enable them to successfully transition back to their whānau and into a mainstream educational setting.



The campus has teaching, administration and residential buildings with multiple and complex layers of access control for staff and students. The inflexibility and lack of control in the school’s legacy mechanical key system has presented challenges over the years for facility management in terms of building security and people safety.



SMARTair™ Wireless Online from ASSA ABLOY has provided a simple, campus-wide electronic lock solution for greater control, safety and security. Using a simple software interface, the school assigns proximity cards to individual staff, and allows pre-set building access according to staff roles; it can open or lock different zones at different times, and set up maintenance contractors with their own cards and access restrictions.


‘We essentially had a safety and security need,’ says Joanna Brunton, the school’s executive officer. ‘We needed to be able to discourage students from going where they didn’t need to be on site or redirect a student who was in a heightened state from re-entering a classroom and potentially disrupting the class or causing damage. And with over fifty staff, we needed much more subtlety in assigning access permissions, which you simply can’t do with a bundle of metal keys.’


Moving to wireless access control and smart locks

As one of the directors of Western Lock Services, Kylie Bray has project-managed the school’s hardware maintenance for years. ‘The school were managing eighty-odd doors with locks from different eras – from the original knob handles to commercial sets,’ says Kylie. ‘It was a difficult site for them to manage and not fit for purpose for their needs.’

Kylie knew about ASSA ABLOY’s wireless electronic locking systems, so she and Joanna met with two of their architectural consultants on site to look at the current situation and the school’s ideal situation. It was quickly clear that the SMARTair wireless locks and proximity cards were the natural fit in terms of school needs, costs, ease of installation and ongoing management.


The SMARTair solution for Westbridge

‘SMARTair has given the school a simple control interface where they assign which doors can be opened by which cards,’ says ASSA ABLOY product manager Nitin Nambiar. ‘The software sits on the school’s server and is connected to a network of nine hubs around the school. With such a system, the school can control access to areas within the school and even go for a complete lockdown should such a situation arise.’

SMARTair is essentially a hub-and-spoke system and provides a real-time audit trail of which doors are being used by which staff cards. The wireless locks are battery operated, which is what keeps the installation cost down – with no need to run wires to individual doors, only the hubs need hardwiring.

‘Each member of our team now has one proximity card with personalised access rights,’ says Joanna. ‘We now have the ability to set higher security for specific areas of our site, especially over the school holidays when students have gone home. Our regular maintenance contractors have their own access keys, so they can just get straight on with their work without calling us to meet them for access. This keeps both our time, and their costs, down.

‘From a facilities management point of view, the solution has done absolutely everything we wanted it to do in terms of safety, security and monitoring. It has been a massive improvement.’


The installation sequence

Before installation, Kylie and her team surveyed all the doors to assess the hardware required and best hub location with the assistance of technical experts from ASSA ABLOY.

The installation itself was booked over the holidays for minimal disruption to the school. Three locksmiths went in, each with a different job for greatest efficiency. One removed the old hardware and machined larger holes, one installed the door closers, and the third locksmith fitted the new locks and escutcheons, all gradually working their way around the campus.

‘With such a mix of old hardware, there were lots of holes to cover up,’ says Kylie. ‘We decided it was neater and faster to cover them with matching metal plates rather than plug all the holes with wood. We had all the locks and escutcheons in place in the first week, then invited ASSA ABLOY back to finalise the hub locations and hardwiring with our IT guy. We completed most of the hubs in week two, set up the software and did our testing ready for the school term.

‘I taught the staff how to use the software and encode access cards. Once you have the software loaded and the matrix set up (which people can use which doors), then you just click on the person’s name, place the proximity card on the SMARTair encoder and click “OK”. It’s really simple. And removing a card is even easier. So if a staff member loses their card, you can go straight in and delete it.

‘The team at ASSA ABLOY have been great with support and backing behind their product. It makes life so much easier to have people to fall back on with questions. And they follow through as well, which is huge – even after everything is installed.’



Product summary

SMARTair™ Wireless Online is a revolutionary access control platform that combines wireless-enabled escutcheons and wall readers, connected hubs and intuitive management software, while still retaining the benefits of not having dedicated data cables. Having each door connected via wireless allows the user to monitor events in real time, remotely open/close doors and automatically update access privileges.

For more information about the products used on this project, contact the ASSA ABLOY architectural team on (09) 448 9188.