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Bottleneck concerns prompt bigger courthouse foyer design

fr jacksoncourthouseCall it a foyer, an atrium, a lobby, a cattle call — an addition is being planned for the Jackson County Justice Center to house metal detectors and lines of people waiting to pass through each morning.

Jackson County commissioners were shown the latest architectural renderings of the proposed foyer at a county meeting last week. It’s grown in size and cost since their first glimpse last month.

“The other design didn’t have adequate space to hold folks while they are trying to gain admission to the facility,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten.

Commissioner Boyce Deitz questioned the need for a larger holding area — one that would accommodate a line of more than 100 people.

“So by your expertise and judgment, there’s going to be a horde of people waiting outside there?” Deitz asked. “Are we sure that is really a problem?”

The rendering depicted a snaking line of people wrapping and folding back on itself.

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Wooten admitted the bigger foyer is mainly to relieve the morning bottleneck, and the rest of the day it would probably seem relatively empty and oversized. But the morning rush must be contended with, Wooten said. If there’s not enough room for people to queue up in the foyer, they would have to wait outside on the sidewalk in the cold and rain, Wooten said.

“We certainly can have the security checkpoint without the atrium,” Wooten said. “It is a convenience issue.”

On busy court mornings, 200 people could be arriving around the same time. And that’s not counting dozens of court employees and county workers who will have to come through the entrance each morning. 

The county hoped to build the new entry foyer for $75,000. But it will now cost more than that, though how much more isn’t known yet, Wooten said.

“We do not have a good hard price estimate for what this would be,” Wooten said.

Costs will also include four additional officers to run the metal detectors and generally beef up security detail.

The county has essentially been ordered to do something about perceived security shortcomings in the justice center by Superior Court Judge Brad Letts. Currently, metal detectors are mounted outside the door of the courtrooms on the second floor. Letts has decreed that’s not good enough, however.

People potentially carrying weapons need to be stopped at the building’s entrance — thus the construction of a foyer to serve as a single entry and exit point.

Security issues aside, it will be an added hassle for county and court employees. They will likely be waved through the metal detectors with the flash of an I.D. badge, but they will still have to funnel through the new foyer — even county employees who work in the adjoining administration wing.

They will no longer be able to use their own entrance, but will instead queue up in the CACHE — Containment Area for CourtHouse Employees — and pass security before making their way to the opposite end of the building.

The same goes for members of the public, whether they are paying taxes or applying for a building permit.

The only way to leave the building will be back through the foyer. All the other doors will become emergency exits only.

Letts has been calling the shots to some extent on the project, holding the power to shut down the courthouse if he feels it is unsafe.

“We want to show Mr. Letts that we are moving along and we are not dragging our feet,” Wooten said.

The Macon County Courthouse is similar to Jackson’s: it has multiple entrances with no central security checkpoint to get inside the building.

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