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    Director wants Heritage Village fenced

    Because of security concerns, he asks the county to consider internal fencing to protect historic structures.

    By EDIE GROSS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


    When Heritage Village opened in 1976, the open-air museum was virtually surrounded by woods.

    Nighttime visitors were likely to be the furry, four-legged variety.

    Now the Walsingham Road attraction, which features more than 20 irreplaceable historic structures, is part of a 182-acre complex that includes a museum, an agricultural center and a series of public gardens.

    The county has spent $25-million linking Heritage Village, the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the gardens in a project called Pinewood Cultural Park. More than 500,000 people are expected to trek through all or parts of the park each year.

    With the added traffic come increased concerns about how to make sure those historic buildings -- including the McMullen log cabin, the county's oldest structure -- remain safe.

    Heritage Village director Ken Ford has asked the county to beef up security at the park, which includes a school, a church, a railroad depot and several historic homes. A fence rings the perimeter of the park, but Ford has suggested keeping fences between each entity within the park as well, something not previously envisioned by county officials.

    The county has not yet decided what to do, but it will address security concerns, said interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster.

    "All of a sudden we have new neighbors and more people coming," she said. "We're not going to leave any of our buildings vulnerable."

    At least three security officers watch over the park at any given moment, but Ford is pushing for more protection.

    Now, a construction fence stands between Heritage Village and the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service to the north. Ford has asked that the fence remain even after work is done on that property.

    That way, if the cooperative extension service holds a night meeting, no one could walk over to Heritage Village unsupervised, Ford said. A bridge across McKay Creek connects the Heritage Village property with the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, but a gate at the west end closes at night to keep museum visitors out of the village.

    "If the cooperative extension is open for a function at night and there's no fence between us and them, then they can get into Heritage Village too," Ford said. "We're not worried about the people coming to the meeting. We're worried about people slipping in. Once they get in, they can go anywhere. My major concern is kids and vandalism."

    Heritage Village has never had a problem with vandals, Ford said. The facility has always been more concerned with the danger posed by lightning strikes and glowing cigarette butts. But Ford said he does not want to invite trouble by being unprepared.

    Carl Barron, director of Pinellas County General Services, said the fence between Heritage Village and the cooperative extension area will stay up until the county comes up with a better security solution.

    The county had Alta Consulting Services of Kirkland, Wash., conduct a security survey of the property. The study, finished in January, indicated that a perimeter fence, officers, security cameras and other electronic devices would best protect the complex.

    The study did not support building internal fences between each attraction, said Vernon Bryant, director of horticulture at the extension. In fact, county officials had always envisioned a lush, barrier-free campus where visitors could easily wander from one site to another.

    "To me, it's a bit unwarranted," Bryant said of internal fences. "Ken was worried about people being on different parts of the site when they shouldn't be. Basically, the various events and activities that occur after-hours are controlled by the individual entities. It's not like the general public is there and wandering around. It's specific people there for a specific purpose."

    Furthermore, Bryant said, if someone really wanted to wreak havoc in Pinewood Cultural Park, a fence likely would not stop him or her.

    Ford said interior fences are not unheard of and can add to security. They also could be landscaped so they do not detract from the park's environment, he said.

    "You can't wander from the Magic Kingdom over to Epcot. There are physical barriers," he said. "They don't need to be ugly or unattractive."

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