Security System Tightens Grip on Courthouse Access

Jun. 28--The days of choosing your entrance to the Franklin County Courthouse are nearing an end.

Come the first of the year, laser beams, cameras, a perimeter fence and a security checkpoint will be part of a new courthouse security system.

The county on Wednesday opened bids for a contract to install the security system. Construction could start in the next 30 to 45 days.

Three contractors submitted bids, with the low of $1.39 million coming from Zeigler Construction Co. of Pasco. Siefken & Sons Construction Inc. of Richland submitted a bid of $1.47 million, and George A. Grant Inc. of Richland bid the project for $1.49 million.

Assuming the security project designer, CKJT Architects of Kennewick, is able to verify Zeigler met all the specifications with its proposal, the county commission will approve the contractor for the job Monday.

The project will include construction of a retaining wall with wrought iron fencing around the campus. A security building through which courthouse and jail visitors will pass for screening will be built on the north side.

Security cameras will be mounted throughout the building to monitor the interior and exterior. Infrared beams will detect movements in off-limits areas, and cameras will be able to track suspicious characters or people out of place.

Construction should last about four months, County Administrator Fred Bowen said.

Visitors could start passing through screening to enter the courthouse around the first of next year, he said. Whether county and city employees who work there will have to go through screening each day is unknown.

"A policy decision hasn't been made yet," Bowen said.

The county commission will make that call, he said. Employees currently use identity cards to access secure entrances at the courthouse.

For everyone who goes through the screening station, the process may pose a worthwhile inconvenience, Commissioner Bob Koch said.

"It's going to be a bit of inconvenience having everybody going through a central point," Koch said. "On the other hand, so is somebody getting hurt an inconvenience."

Bowen said the security system will screen for any type of weapon being brought in the building and is intended to prevent violence from people experiencing what he called "fits of passion," such as the person who loses custody of a child.

"It's people who've had something taken away from them, they're angry and they lash out," Bowen said.

Koch said the security installation is coming about 20 years late, but that the county had to be patient and get a good system when it could afford to. The county will pay for the system with proceeds from the 2006 auction of 10.5 acres it owned west of TRAC off Road 68, which netted about $2.8 million.

Once up, the system will require operation by the equivalent of 2 1/2 full-time employees per week. The county currently has one position for providing security two or 2 1/2 days per week, when the domestic docket is processed.

The county will seek a contract for the security operations, a cost that will be about $200,000 per year, Bowen said.

Copyright (c) 2007, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.