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Security at center of planning for justice facility
Denver-based Reilly Johnson Architecture is the designer of the proposed Riverton justice center. Reilly Johnson Architecture illustration

Security at center of planning for justice facility

Nov 21, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Security features for the proposed Riverton justice center steered most of the discussion during the Fremont County Commission meeting Tuesday.

In particular, the representatives talked about the possibility of installing bullet-proof glass at the new facility, which is planned for construction on county-owned property near the intersection of Gasser Road and Major Avenue in Riverton.

The $5 million justice center would replace the county's current Riverton facility, which was found to have been penetrated by a bullet hole last summer.

Ballistic glass

Bob Johnson, of Denver-based Reilly Johnson Architecture, told commissioners it would cost an additional $62,000 to cover every exterior window at the new facility with ballistic glass.

He said placing the opaque glass on the doors in the lobby would be more difficult and would prevent personnel from having a clear look at people entering the building.

The glass he offered to commissioners was a "Level 2" glass that could stop bullets from a .357 Magnum handgun, but Johnson said glass strength goes up to a "Level 8."

Rather than using the bullet-proof material, Commission Chairman Doug Thompson asked if the architects could incorporate ceiling windows into the building's design.

"What's driving this is a bullet hole in our existing facility," Thompson said. "If we move up there and don't address bullet holes through windows, we're going to set up the same thing (there)."

In his experience designing other justice centers, Johnson said he has never used ballistic glass -- mostly due to the high cost. But he said it's important to let daylight enter the building and allow employees to look outside. A combination of ceiling windows and ballistic glass is another option.

Judge's request

"It's a very tough call," Johnson said. "You have to help us."

He emphasized that he will use the commissioners' direction as he moves forward with the center's design, but Johnson reminded the group that Riverton Judge Wesley Roberts of the Ninth Circuit Court of Fremont County specifically requested clear, regular windows in the court room.

County Clerk Julie Freese said the judge's request was counterproductive.

"I believe the commissioners are the ones that are funding this," Freese said. "Are we doing what (Roberts) wants to do, or does that come back to this board and you guys get to decide?

"The whole idea is to get a safer place; it just seems like we're losing the sight of where we're moving."

Commission vice chairman Travis Becker said he had requested input about the design from personnel currently working at the center on South Federal Boulevard.

"I felt it was necessary to have each of the users work with (Johnson) for work flow and things of that nature," Becker said. "I'm not a judge, I'm not an attorney, I'm not a sheriff. I don't know how they operate."

He said he made sure the county employees knew that final decisions would be made by commissioners and architects.

Design

The design Johnson presented showed room for office space, waiting areas, judges' chambers, holding cells, exits, storage rooms and vehicle ports. Parking areas are located on three sides of the building, and Roberts requested a separate entrance solely for judges.

Johnson gave more details on the thickness of the concrete exterior and brick structure as well as other mechanical and electrical engineering already included in the plans. He also told commissioners that they would have to agree on things like polished concrete floors in lieu of waxed concrete floors, lighting fixtures and new courtroom technology.

He also suggested security electronics that would change the manual key system already in place to more advanced uses with controlled doors, cameras, intercoms and panic buttons. If they decided to keep those features out, Johnson said they would save money.

The cost estimate remained close to $5 million, Johnson said, even with the minor changes that were fit in to exits and public access areas.

The next step would be the construction documents phase which would incorporate the design and cost estimates, put them together, and provide contractors with the plan to start building the design. Commissioners then expressed their support for the project, the direction from the state as far as the funding through new possible legislation, and finally agreeing on the attributes for the building.

"I think the one question we have to readdress is are we going in the right direction?" Thompson asked. "We are on record with a majority of the commission saying we like this... We will have to discuss details."

Thompson reiterated the importance of improving security and not working backwards.

"If we're going for security, we're going for security," he said. "When you invest $5 million of the taxpayers' dollars for security, we're going to have security."

Commissioner Keja Whiteman suggested they hold a public hearing to offer the public more information and answers. A tentative date of meeting on Dec. 4 in Riverton was set to provide residents of Fremont County with a bigger picture on the proposed plans- commissioners agreed was necessary to quickly move forward.