‘The parts are coming together’

North courthouse entrance to close early next year, other security changes coming

Courthouse WEB

In an effort to bolster security at the Marshall County Courthouse, county officials said visitors can expect some changes in the near future.

“We’re going to start closing the entrances to the courthouse, and so we’re going to lock the north door,” said Marshall County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Patten of one of the major upcoming changes. “The only available entrance, then, for the public, will be at the south door.”

The north door faces Main Street, and many visitors and employees currently use the entrance daily. The south entrance also sees regular traffic.

“It’s going to be locked, but there will be a push bar on it; if there’s a fire, we want people getting out,” Patten said of the north entrance. “It probably won’t happen until after the holidays; every chance we get, we try to tell people … that this is what’s going to happen.”

In the last year, the courthouse has seen an increase in part-time security deputies from the sheriff’s office. Board Vice Chairman Dave Thompson said the plan is to have six such deputies to work four part-time positions.

“It’s not going to be six part-timers, it’s going to be six individuals that will operate off of those four part-time slots,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for about four years, it’s been steady improvement,”

Another upcoming security change will be equipment placed at the south entrance.

“We needed to get the people in place, and now that we’ve got that, we want to put the equipment in place,” Thompson said. “We’ll have a magnetometer and we’ll have an X-ray [machine] and some other things, and we’ve got some changes that we’ll have to do with the entrance area.”

Patten said the county’s buildings and grounds department plans to make those changes around the south entrance area.

“We wanted to do some more remodeling in there so that’s nice and fresh,” he said. “We’re going to try very hard to keep to the architecture of the building; we’ve got a good-looking old building, and we want to make it look nice.”

Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman said limiting visitors to one entrance would help security personnel maintain a safe environment.

“The single advantage I can think of, from a security perspective, is for the security staff to be in the habit of heightened awareness of who is entering the building,” he said, adding the security deputies have arrest powers and are armed.

With the regular court trials and hearings take place in the courthouse, and Thompson said that some may be frustrated by judicial decisions, adding to the need for the upcoming measures.

Board member Steve Salasek said he fully supports the changes.

“I’ve always been concerned about the attorney’s office downstairs,” he said. “Anything we can do to tighten things up for them and make things a little safer.”

Salasek said the closing of the north entrance could come as a surprise to some who regularly enter the courthouse that way.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what people’s reactions are to locking that door,” he said.

Thompson also said the change may take some courthouse users by surprise.

“It’s going to be a change, there’s no doubt about it, but it will be a good change,” he said. “Our employees deserve to have a good, secure environment; not only that, so do all the people that visit the courthouse to do their day-to-day business.”

Patten said a committee has been formed and will continue to meet regularly to develop a timeline for the changes.

“I’ve put together a group of people, I call them our ‘core group,’ like the sheriff, the county attorney, buildings and grounds, auditor,” he said, adding judges working at the courthouse are also involved. “That gives us a pretty well-rounded core group … the parts are coming together, and everyone’s pulling on the team.”

For more information on the county, visit www.co.marshall.ia.us

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com