County adds $13K security glass in courthouse, but employees want more

BY BETH BRATSOS | MARCH 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Johnson County officials have added approximately $13,000 in new security glass at the Courthouse, but many Courthouse workers want additional security measures.

County Attorney Janet Lyness said the glass, installed around two weeks ago, was built to help with noise distractions on the first floor, create a barrier between employees and patrons, and make the physical environment more comfortable. An increasing number of Courthouse cases alongside a new courtroom on the first floor led to more people waiting in the lobby for hearings and using the break room, she said.

"The big thing I noticed immediately was the noise," she said. "The number of interruptions we have just from yelling and talking — it travels through the office. Having the office be quieter is a very nice change."

The glass also helped resolve an unpleasant breeze in the office from people entering the Courthouse through the back door, she said.

Assistant County Attorney Michael Brennan said he believes the main benefits of the glass are environmental.

"The entire ground floor and especially the lobby area can get quite cold in winter," he said in an email. "It was not at all unusual to see our receptionists wearing scarves and coats at their workstations on cold winter days."

Although the security glass has many benefits, Lyness said, it does not alleviate the need for increased security throughout the Courthouse. Offices on the north side of the first floor are behind the glass, but other offices are still unprotected.

"[We've had] very big concerns of who's coming in with weapons. There are a lot of volatile situations going on [and] usually a lot of angry people here," she said. "The whole security for the Courthouse needs to be updated, because there is no good way to currently screen people coming in with weapons."

However, she said, it is structurally impossible to set up a permanent metal detector in the existing Courthouse. Though she supported a new Justice Center with screening for Courthouse users, more court space and jail beds, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors delayed that project Wednesday.

"Currently, because of congestion of the Courthouse, it is difficult to separate parties," she said. "Having security also involves having physical space where you can separate people."

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the supervisors are still in the process of figuring out how much to bond for the Justice Center, which would be built near to the Courthouse.

"We have a situation where a Courthouse is out of space," he said "We continue to try to piecemeal to do what we have to do until we ultimately build a new Justice Center."

Neuzil said he hopes the bond referendum issue will make it to November's ballots, and, if approved by voters, to begin the two-year construction shortly thereafter. The estimated cost of the center is currently in the $48 million range, he said.

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