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Security concerns lead to Courthouse renovation

An extensive renovation now underway at the King George Courthouse is expected to be completed soon. Officials believe it will solve many, but not all, of the security concerns that have worried county law enforcement officers for the past two decades.

“This is an important security upgrade,” said King George Circuit Court Clerk Vic Mason. “But there is more to

be done.”

At a reported cost of more than $200,000, construction work to improve safety and security has been underway since the first of the year. Ed Moore, a contractor hired by the county to oversee the renovation, said work should be completed “in the next several weeks.”

Some of the renovation has already been finished. The offices of Commonwealth’s Attorney Keri Gusmann, which have been located in the west end of the courthouse, have already moved to the east end of the building into renovated space, once occupied by the King George County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s great to finally be in our new space,” Gusmann said. “For the most part, we have settled in. There are a couple of projects that still need to be finished up, but luckily the amount of impact is over for my office. The disruption in service to the community was minimal.”

Gusmann’s expansive files will be located in a new file room which will be shared with the Circuit Court’s mammoth files maintained by Mason. Seven-foot tall   high-density files have been installed in the new file room, and will be on tracks and rollers allowing Gusmann’s and Mason’s staffs easy access.

There is a new larger waiting room for witnesses and victims. “This minimizes the amount of contact with the person they may be testifying against,” Gusmann said.

Among the new security improvements are a sally port with a security fence around it, and an electronic gate so prisoners going to and from court can be transferred safely. “Currently, they bring the detainees across the parking lot into the building,” Moore said. Also being added are two rooms that will allow private meetings between defendants and their attorneys.

“What we’ve had has been a recipe for disaster,” said Mason. “Prisoners being brought through an unsecured area, lawyers meeting with their clients in the hallways, and sometimes witnesses for both sides sharing the lobby or a hallway at the same time. Now we will be able to separate people to some degree.”

After the work on the project is completed, the only public access to the courthouse will be the west back-entrance to the building. Visitors will be required to pass through security scanners and an X-ray machine to enter the courthouse. Security cameras are being added to the building. The only other entrances will be the sally port for prisoners, and staff entrances which will require an electronic card entry.

The King George Courthouse was built in 1923. “I believe we are among the last courthouses in the area to make these kinds of security improvements,” Mason said. But Mason pointed out there is more that can be done. Judges and prisoners will still use the same hallway, for example. Gusmann noted, “This is only a band-aid, we will need a new courthouse down the road.”

Both Mason and Gusmann, however, are grateful for the improvements that have been made so far. “The renovation will make it possible for my office to continue to serve the public at a high level, while we work in the coming years toward building a new courthouse,” Gusmann said.

 

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