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Construction on $465K, modernized Hall of Justice entrance to begin next month

Construction on $465K, modernized Hall of Justice entrance to begin next month

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Work on a $465,500 renovation modernizing and improving security at the entrance to the county-city Hall of Justice will begin next month.

The Public Building Commission, a local taxing authority overseeing city and county buildings, signed a contract in September with Dickey-Hinds-Muir, a Lincoln construction company, for the entrance reconfiguration at 575 S. 10th St.

The building has had the same entrance since 2000, according to Kerin Peterson, the commission's property administrator.

About 30,000 people pass through the checkpoint each month en route to the Lincoln Police Department, Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, County Attorney's Office, County Court or District Court.

Lines regularly back up on busy court days.

The commission in 2017 had explored building a new singular, secure entrance for the complex of city and county government buildings on the block, but decided on improving just the Hall of Justice entrance, a project one-fifth the cost.

Expanding the entrance and rearranging its layout addresses a key security concern of Lancaster County Sheriff's Capt. Jerry Witte, who oversees court services. 

As people go through the current security line, they pass through a metal detector and are behind and close to the armed officers. 

The space is small and doesn't move people through the checkpoint efficiently, building officials have said. 

Security staff will have their backs to walls in the renovated checkpoint, which will be organized much like a TSA checkpoint, Witte said.

When the new security area is opened it will also include a new, wider metal detector and a new X-ray scanner with better imaging that is also capable of detecting airborne hazards, Witte and Peterson said.  

Every item being brought into the building will be put through the scanner, an impracticality with the current scanner, Witte said.

"It would cause such a choke we wouldn’t be able to get people into the building," Witte said.

The renovation costs do not include the purchase of the new scanner and metal detector, Peterson said. She didn't have cost estimates for those purchases Wednesday.

A new, separate employee entrance to help streamline traffic flow is also included in the renovation. 

After the new entrance opens, Witte will not need to staff as many security guards at the checkpoint as the current close-quarters setup requires, he said. 

Instead, security staff freed up by the new entrance can do more foot patrols in the two other buildings on the block that don't have security checkpoints, Witte said.

The project will be paid for by the commission, which has its own property tax levy.

Phased construction of the checkpoint is expected to be finished next June, Peterson said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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