Courthouse security upgrades put on hold

Published 9:13 am Friday, March 29, 2013

This artisti's rendering of security upgrades to Southampton County Courthouse from PMA Architecture, shows a new, secure main entrance. -- SUBMITTED | PMA ARCHITECTS

This artisti’s rendering of security upgrades to Southampton County Courthouse from PMA Architecture, shows a new, secure main entrance. — SUBMITTED | PMA ARCHITECTS

COURTLAND—Security improvements at the Southampton County Courthouse were put on hold for 30 days at Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

PMA Architecture representative Jeff Stodghill appeared before the board to offer a plan for upgrading security. The board, at its Sept. 24, 2012 meeting, had authorized County Administrator Mike Johnson to contract with PMA for the architectural services.

Stodghill said he had met with the court judges, the sheriff, the commonwealth’s attorney and clerks of court to discuss specific needs.

After those meetings, PMA prepared a preliminary design for improvements, and then conducted follow-up meetings to get more feedback.

The plan includes creating a secure main entrance to the courthouse, with a screening area to make it safe and effective. Further, the plan adds close circuit television for monitoring by the Sheriff’s office.

Stodghill said the current system is old and obsolete. A new lobby will make for better flow, so people will go through one area for screening. Access for staff will be through a side entrance, with electronic locks and sensors to provide more control.

He suggested that the parking lot be reconfigured with a series of walls and fences to dedicate half of the lot for staff in a more secure area. Although Stodghill said that wasn’t something asked for, “but after meeting with everyone I think it needs to be in the plan.” He explained that in talking to staff, one of the main concerns was about “personal safety” at the end of the workday. “It is a real concern to leave the building and get to cars safely,” he stressed.

The cost for the upgrade is $525,000 for basic improvements and $175,000 for equipment. He added that an emergency back-up generator was needed to back up the systems. “To do this effectively, you will need another $240,000,” he said.

Board chairman Dallas Jones (Drewryville District) maintained that they needed something less expensive.

Stodghill offered, “We can try to skinny it down but at this point to get the basics, you are looking at $700,000-$750,000.

Supervisor Carl Faison (Boykins District) said he believed what Stodghill presented would take care of the (security) problem but wondered how it would be financed.

Supervisor Glenn Updike (Newsoms District) said he needed some alternatives to make it workable – at the least cost. “The budget is tight – and this is a Cadillac plan. I think it needs to be cut.”

Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips maintained, “I believe we need security measures,” adding that as the board heads into the budget season, it must look at what the most economical choices are.

Faison agreed saying he thought it was the consensus of the board that something needs to be done.

Stodghill said he needs to proceed with the design and would find a way to make it less costly but he needed to move toward the bid process. He stressed that what he’d presented was not a Cadillac plan but was “trying to present a straight up picture.”

Dr Alan Edwards (Jerusalem District) said, “We need the Model T plan – we can’t afford this.”

Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter maintained, “We don’t know if this is basic or Cadillac, but one million dollars is a lot of money. We need to figure out where we are going to get the money and I’m apprehensive to give you the green light, but I don’t want to slow down the process.”

The architect said, “Let’s wait 30 days and I’ll get back to you.”

Porter asked that the matter be put on the agenda for the next board meeting.