Coming Soon, a More Secure City Hall for Philadelphia

By late March or early April, the cavernous, dimly lit northeast entrance to City Hall will become the gateway to a new level of security in the historic building.

It's the corner where all the major players enter on their way to see the mayor on the second floor, where protesters congregate before riding up to the fourth floor to raise cain in City Council.

Soon, anyone wanting to visit a courtroom, the marriage license bureau or any other office on the upper floors of City Hall will have to enter the building through this northeast entrance.

Entrances at the three other corners of the block-wide structure will be closed to the public.

At the new northeast security checkpoint, visitors will have their photos taken in grainy black-and-white, and a picture will be attached to temporary passes. They'll walk past police security and through a card-access turnstile to the elevator and stairwell.

It's a system now in use at the city's other major buildings, the Municipal Services Building and One Parkway Building.

Photo records at all three buildings will be combined, meaning that a visitor to the MSB won't have to wait for a new photo at City Hall. Security officers will simply print out what's on file. Employees will be issued electronic swipe cards that will give them entry through any of the locked doors.

"We're just basically doing the best we can with this medieval monster to make it more secure," said Joan Schlotterbeck, public- property commissioner, who will oversee operations once the construction is complete.

The security desk and turnstiles are now under construction in the six-story entrance.

Rick Tustin, director of the city's capital-program office, said the work was on schedule for an early-spring completion.

First announced in November 2001, the $6.5-million security plan calls for increased lighting outside, surveillance cameras peering out on the City Hall apron, including the below-ground section of Dilworth Plaza, and cameras scanning the block-long corridors inside the building.

Schlotterbeck said that people wanting to visit ground-floor offices like the Records Department, City Commissioners or the Mayor's Action Center will be able to enter City Hall from the central courtyard without going through the new security system. But the doors to elevators and stairwells will be closed to the public.

"We think we've married the concept of maintaining a free flow of people doing business with building-security needs," she said.

Tustin said the city already has installed metal bollards at the street curb and a plexiglass shield in the City Council gallery. In the courtyard, the building's electrical nerve-center has been fenced and secured.

He said the northeast entrance will be equipped with metal detectors and an X-ray unit.

"The equipment will be there, but there's been no decision yet on whether it will be used from Day One," he said.

Aside from its many ground-level entrances, City Hall has a number of entrances to the subway system. Tustin said they will all be outfitted with card access.

"In case of a fire or emergency, the doors automatically would be open," he said. "Nobody is ever going to be trapped."

Some aspects of the new security operation await mayoral approval. For example, in the past, protesters with police civil-affairs escorts have routinely stood outside the mayor's office shouting slogans for their cause.

Will they be allowed entry to the restricted second floor? An administration spokesman said issues like that have not been decided.

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