Security improvements in the works for Rock County Courthouse

Committee recommends $8M in security upgrades
Security improvements in the works for Rock County Courthouse

The Rock County General Services Committee has been reviewing plans to improve security at the Rock County Courthouse, and officials say the upgrades are long overdue.

The courthouse was built back in 1955 with a new section added to the front in 1999, and some of the equipment hasn’t been updated since.

“Downstairs where the sheriff has their holding cells for inmates coming to court, right now their security system and their monitors, if there’s an incident, they have to actually take a VHS tape and stick it in a machine and hit record before they could record it,” County Administrator Josh Smith said. “We have nothing digital down there, and so some of these measures are pretty outdated, and it’s time.”Security improvements in the works for Rock County Courthouse

Facilities Management Director Brent Sutherland said plans to increase security have been in the works for about two years, and a proposal is finally starting to come together.

The plan includes three phases. Phase one involves updating cameras, restricting door access and adding basic security measures.

“There will be panic alarms that can be pushed and notify the sheriff’s office immediately,” Sutherland said.

Phase one costs $1.7 million and is scheduled to go in front of the Rock County Board Thursday. If the board approves the plan, Sutherland said work would start in April and last about a year.

Phase two includes moving the security checkpoint to the front of the building so everyone is screened before entering. Currently, there are about 12 entrances into the courthouse, and only people going to the court side of the courthouse go through security. A study showed that’s roughly 50 percent of the people who enter the courthouse. This plan would limit access to two doors: one for the public and one for employees.

“We’ve had a number of incidents over the years where people have tried to bring weapons into the courthouse, and it’s only because of the good work of the sheriff’s office staff and our security team that those haven’t become higher profile or bigger events,” Smith said. “So we’re trying to be proactive here in addressing issues that we know we’ve had for a long time.”Security improvements in the works for Rock County Courthouse

Several options for phase two were planned out by architectural, planning and interior design firm Potter Lawson Inc. The seven different options ranged from $2.32 million to $17.92 million and all addressed the security upgrades. Some of the plans also included adding or improving parking for the area.

At the Rock County General Services Committee meeting Tuesday, members recommended the county move forward with option 3B. That plan includes having all members of the public enter through the front door to go through security, while employees enter through a back door with a badge. This proposal would keep the parking lot west of the courthouse the same, and would remove the parking ramp east of the courthouse. In its place, a level parking lot and new loading dock would be added.

Sutherland said a new loading dock was necessary because the current one at the front of the courthouse cannot accommodate large trucks.

“We’re actually having semis unload to a smaller truck, which is costing us more money for the deliveries, because we can’t get the truck in there,” he said.

The total cost for option 3B is $6.54 million. Sutherland said about $2 million is for security upgrades and $4 million for parking improvements.

Sutherland said he wants the county board to look over option 3B before any more plans move forward. The board is scheduled to review the proposal at its meeting April 13.

The third phase of the project includes adding glass partitions to some high-risk departments to separate staff from the community.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate, but it’s also been quite loose. So it was time to say, ‘Hey. We need to take steps to get more secure,'” Sutherland said.

He said phase two and three might be done together if it’s more cost-effective. He said he hopes to have plans and drawings ready to go by April 2018, when phase one construction should be complete.