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Courthouse gaining new security system

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Within the next couple of months, there will be only one way to get into the Harrison County Courthouse.

Last week, workers started installing a security system at the Main Street entrance of the courthouse. When the project is complete, that will be the only way for the public to access the building, said Terry Schulte, director of the county Planning Commission.

"We hope this won't be an inconvenience for the public," she said. "We hope they understand this is for their protection as well."

Harrison County received money for the project from the state's Courthouse Security Fund, Schulte said.

Securing the building will involve installation of two security scanners and an X-ray machine just inside the front door and construction of a ramp outside.

The new system also will include an unspecified number of closed-circuit television cameras to monitor both inside and outside the courthouse, Schulte said.

Currently, the only part of the building that is protected by a security system is the third floor, where the courtrooms and offices of both circuit court judges are located.

Although the system prevents weapons from being taken into the courtrooms, the current set up is not thorough enough to provide complete protection, she said.

Additionally, a third circuit court judge is scheduled to start trying cases by Jan. 1, 2001. The courtroom and offices for that judge will be located on the second floor of the courthouse, and not protected by the third floor security system.

As part of the project, the security equipment now on the third floor will be moved to the ground floor of the building, and installed there, Schulte said. No new scanners or X-ray machines need to be purchased.

A contract for the renovation project was awarded late last year, Schulte said. It took so long to start because of the courthouse's age.

"The courthouse is an historic building," she said. "It took quite a while because every part of the project had to be approved by the Historic Preservation Office."

Changing the building, even to upgrade security, must be done so that it will not significantly alter its historic quality.

For example, to install the frame that now sits inside the front doorway, workers had to put felt between the metal and the marble wall, she said.

The new system is expected to be operational by May 15, she said. When that happens, all other doors into the courthouse will be exits only, and protected by access control devices.

The Harrison County Correctional Center, located in the back of the courthouse, will continue to be accessible from its Washington Avenue door, she said.

But the doors leading to the rest of the building will be accessible by employees only, Schulte said.

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