County okays security screening at center

The Government Center plan safeguards the entire building and saves money.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 19, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Starting soon, everyone entering the Hernando County Government Center will pass through a security screening.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved a plan to place security checkpoints at the east and west entrances to the atrium by the end of the first quarter of 2008. Employees and visitors to the courthouse will pass through metal detectors and X-ray machines if they enter the atrium or come up from the parking level or use the handicapped entrance.

The set-up will also reassign one of the three elevators in the atrium to handle only traffic from the parking level to the first floor; the other two would go from the first floor to all other floors.

Other access doors will not be open to the public; the tax collector's office and the clerk's guardian ad litem areas would not be covered by the screening equipment. The second floor bridge would be closed except for fire access.

Security checkpoints now are only in place on the first, third and fourth floors where court holds session. The plan keeps security staff at the same level while safeguarding the entire building, said Pat Fagan, parks and recreation director.

The plan will eventually save the county roughly $40,000 per year by reducing the number of deputies needed to provide security and by adding public service aides to staff the checkpoints, officials said.

Fagan said staff has already taken steps to improve security, such as closing some public access doors, improving outdoor lighting, cutting back plants outside the structure, installing alarm systems and cameras and securing the parking garage doors.

The reassigning of the elevators could cause some congestion and it would make the entrance to the courthouse less friendly to the handicapped and those that enter the atrium from the level below, Fagan warned. Those visitors would have to get off the elevator at the first floor for screening and then wait for one of the other two elevators to access floors 2, 3 and 4.

The real crunch could come if elevators are down or being serviced, during the early part of the day when employees were arriving and when major court activity is ongoing in the building.

While they acknowledged the potential inconveniences, commissioners backed the plan. "We'll be a lot safer place when we're all done here," said Chairman Jeff Stabins.

Interim county administrator Larry Jennings said the county was going to be able to spend the same amount budgeted for the current year "and we can secure the whole complex."

Fagan estimated the work would be done within three months.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.