Routt County upgrading security at downtown Steamboat campus

Project includes historic Routt County Courthouse, Annex Building and new Health and Human Services building

Halls of the Historic Routt County Courthouse stood empty for months as most county staff worked from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is no longer the case.

While the vast majority of people climbing the stairs into the building are there for a routine task, like renewing motor vehicle registration, there have been some instances over the years where they have become much more of a disruption.

“I had a gentleman that we disqualified from a bid process, and he not only came into my department ranting and raving, but he went into the building department and started in the lawyers office,” said Julie Kennedy, county purchasing director, in a meeting Monday referring to an incident that happened about six months ago.

While these instances are not common occurrences, adding a security system in the former courthouse building has been talked about for years. Following a security study, the county hired a consultant in 2019 to identify vulnerabilities and design a new security system.

“We were ready to kick off the design in early 2020, but then COVID hit,” said Steve Faulkner, maintenance manager for the county.

Commissioners were presented Monday with an updated plan for security in the historic courthouse, Annex Building and future Health and Human Services building, which together are being called the county’s downtown Steamboat campus. The Health and Human Services building is set to break ground next week.

The Arvada-based firm BCER Engineering Inc. was hired to update the previous security designs and laid out a system that would feature several facets, with access card readers on entrances to the building and to each department, cameras throughout the campus and wireless panic or duress buttons for employees.

“Our mission, so to speak, is to create a safe and secure working environment for the employees of Routt County,” said Scott Muller, senior project manager for BCER.

But security is not the only reason for the new system.

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said local nonprofits and other community groups heavily used the commissioners’ hearing room and other spaces in the building prior to the pandemic.

“For years, people have just checked out a physical key, or the front door has been left unlocked,” Melton said. “Sometimes, those keys don’t come back.”

Melton said it is very expensive to have to re-key locks when a master key is lost. The new system will modernize the way they allow the public to access these spaces. Muller said BCER and the county have discussed making the system accessible with a phone, allowing the county to issue a temporary credential to someone rather than a physical key. Employees could use their phones, as well, and the county will be able to issue cards that could serve as a backup.

Muller said the average person entering the campus likely wouldn’t notice the system other than the addition of new cameras.

“No difference,” Muller said. “We want to have that open environment so they can just walk in.”

Generally, the card readers on the department doors wouldn’t require access during the day but would after traditional business hours. Department doors that are typically left open could get a device called a “hold open,” which allows doors to be automatically closed if there is an emergency situation.

“One reason why we selected (BCER) is because we’re open to the public and we want them to feel comfortable in here,” said purchasing director Julie Kennedy.

The design presented Monday includes 13 exterior doors, 32 interior department doors, 23 cameras and 26 panic buttons in the courthouse and annex building, though designs could change. There are also 22 hold opens in the design, but commissioners indicated not every department door needed this device, and that number, too, could change.

The total system is estimated to cost about $180,000, which could still vary depending on changes to the system’s design or because the county still needs to collect bids from various security device companies. The future Health and Human Services building’s system will cost about $80,000, slightly lower per device because integrating the system will be easier in a new building.

“I think we have really taken that security study information and really just honed in on the things that are most important, while continuing to make sure that we have a building that is very accessible to the public,” Melton said.

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