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Council hears proposal for improved security at Willmar City Offices

WILLMAR -- The work area in the Willmar City Offices building might become a little more secure if the City Council approves recommended security upgrades. A plan presented to council members at the March 6 work session includes a system which wo...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneA plan presented March 6 to City Council members proposes that the entrance to the employee work area in the Willmar City Offices building, shown here, have a new security door installed. The new layout would require people to be buzzed in by someone inside, and a new service counter would provide a central location assisting visitors. The entrance from the street would remain open during business hours as normal.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune A plan presented March 6 to City Council members proposes that the entrance to the employee work area in the Willmar City Offices building, shown here, have a new security door installed. The new layout would require people to be buzzed in by someone inside, and a new service counter would provide a central location assisting visitors. The entrance from the street would remain open during business hours as normal.

WILLMAR - The work area in the Willmar City Offices building might become a little more secure if the City Council approves recommended security upgrades. A plan presented to council members at the March 6 work session includes a system which would require visitors to be buzzed in before they can enter the offices of city staff inside the building.

The safety plan, which also has the support of the Willmar Police Department, would replace the current office door with a door that would remain locked from the inside. This door would be accessed either by a magnetic key card or unlocked from within by a city employee.

Visitors would receive assistance at a newly installed counter, where staff will be available to answer questions, accept bill payments or help visitors to the correct staff member.

"It would prevent the wandering around city hall. It is a stopgap measure," Interim City Administrator Mike McGuire said.

The door at the main entrance to the building from the street would remain unlocked during business hours as normal.

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The estimated total costs for new doors, counter, magnetic lock/card reader and the remote call button release is $21,700. McGuire will be getting a second quote for the project before the council votes on the plan at an upcoming council meeting.

The potential improvements came after the Willmar Police Department completed a security study of the city offices early last year, McGuire said.

The Police Department looked at the city building as a whole along with the council chambers at the Municipal Utilities building to identify security issues.

"We identified the front entrance (to the employee office area) definitely being a liability," Police Chief Jim Felt said.

Felt said there have been a couple of instances where visitors to the offices have become unruly, though those events have been few and far between. Also with cases of workplace violence happening and the shooting outside of a council meeting in New Hope in January 2015, Felt said in an interview Tuesday with the Tribune that he believed the city needed to look more deeply into its own security measures.

"It popped into everyone's mind," Felt said.

McGuire said he has seen and heard many reports of people wandering around the offices looking for a specific person, or even thinking they were in the County Office Building. Having a counter up front would give visitors a central place to stop and ask for help.

McGuire said there would be no additional staff needed to man the counter. Employees who already work in the front office would be available to help visitors at the counter.

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There was some discussion about installing bulletproof glass above the new counter, but McGuire felt it was not needed. A rolling shutter, which would be closed after hours, would provide another layer of security at night for the offices, but still allow for open face-to-face conversations between staff and visitors during the day.

"Right now it is an open area where anyone can walk through. From a safety and security standpoint, either one would be workable," Felt said March 6 about the plan.

While the proposed security upgrades would take care of some of the safety concerns, there are still issues. People would still be able to walk downstairs to the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission offices without being buzzed in as the stairs are located directly to the left of the building entrance. McGuire said he spoke with the tenant and they were open to doing some sort of security upgrade at the stairs leading down to their office.

The elevator would also still be unsecured, allowing people to potentially go upstairs and downstairs without being noticed. McGuire said it would cost a lot of money to upgrade the elevator, because of its age.

"I don't see a good way around that," McGuire said, who is also concerned about spending a lot of money in a building which could end up being replaced in the future. There has been some discussion about a new city office, or a major remodeling project.

The security study found some safety measures that could be done on other floors of the building, including making sure certain doors are locked, which would help keep people from entering areas they should not, Felt said Tuesday.

Council members voiced some concern that the new security measures would make the offices feel less welcoming to visitors. However, employee safety was very important to the council.

"We need to have something that makes our employees feel safe. It is important for us to protect our staff," Mayor Marv Calvin said.

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Briana Sanchez / TribuneA plan presented March 6 to members of the City Council proposes that Willmar City Offices have a new security door installed at the entrance to the city employees' work area shown here. The new layout would require people to be buzzed in by someone inside. The door from the street would remain open during business hours as normal.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune A plan presented March 6 to members of the City Council proposes that Willmar City Offices have a new security door installed at the entrance to the city employees' work area shown here. The new layout would require people to be buzzed in by someone inside. The door from the street would remain open during business hours as normal.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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