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Front-door security coming to Jackson Justice Center

fr sylvajusticecenterSecurity upgrades are on the way at the Jackson County Justice Center, but commissioners have decided to hold off on any expansion of the lobby area — at least for now.

“I think it’s a good start,” said Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. “I think it shows a good-faith effort on our part to adhere to what the judge’s request was.”

The request in question had come from Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts and was not so much a request as a mandate that the county upgrade a justice center that is squeezed for space and, more importantly, quite lax on security. Currently, there is no screening to get in the building and no security personnel present except at the courtroom doors. 

Earlier this month, commissioners voted unanimously to make the changes necessary to restrict the justice center — which also houses a variety of county administrative departments — to a single point of entry, the most pressing of the changes Letts had asked for. 

The approval covered $130,000 in upgrades, with costs including security equipment such as a bag scanner and magnometers, alarm system coordination, a door to secure the judges’ chambers and additional security fencing around the building. The county will fund the project from contingency. 

That price tag is a high-ball amount, County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners. 

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“It could very well be less than this,” he said. “We know it won’t be any more expensive than this.”

However, the project will likely include another $80,000 cost, according to estimates presented by architect Odell Thompson last week. Thompson showed commissioners a drawing featuring new doors and façade at the entrance, new partitions in the lobby area and changes to the heating and cooling system to serve what will essentially become a separate room in the building. If commissioners approve the construction, the work will likely be done by July, Wooten said. 

The project will also mean a hike in the sheriff’s budget, which will soon be responsible for providing security at the entrance. The new positions will likely cost about $140,000 annually in salaries and carry a $57,000 one-time equipment and vehicle cost. 

Next up, potentially, is a covered waiting area outside the doors. Letts had told commissioners that the existing lobby won’t be big enough to hold everyone coming to court if there’s a backup to be screened before entering the building. But with cost estimates for the portico hovering around $350,000, commissioners said they wanted to spend some time investigating just how many people come through the doors, and when, to determine whether that’s a worthy investment. 

For now, Wooten said, “we could not justify that amount of money just to have a covered area for people to wait in.” 

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