YAKIMA -- Come June, all visitors to the Yakima County Courthouse will have to pass through a metal detector to conduct their business, whether it's obtaining a building permit, buying license tabs, paying taxes or appearing in court.
The screening and new restrictions on access -- the public will be able to enter only from Second Street -- are part of a long-awaited plan to make the courthouse safer for visitors and staff.
County officials, employees and court staff have long worried the building is vulnerable to a serious security breach due to the open nature of the structure and the range of business conducted there, from criminal trials and emotionally charged family court cases to more mundane matters such as renewing license tabs.
Superior Court judges even considered carrying weapons at one point.
County commissioners have set aside $250,000 from a bond issue to add the secure entrance, a separate card-operated door for employees and a fenced-in entrance for jail inmates coming for court appearances.
The north side entrance off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will become an emergency-only exit.
"This is an unfortunate yet necessary act we are compelled to do," Commissioner Mike Leita said in response to years of concerns about inadequate security.
Public Services Director Vern Redifer said separate doors for entering and leaving will be installed at the Second Street entrance. Most times, personnel will operate one security station, but a second can be opened on high-traffic days.
The Geographic Information Services Department just inside the door will be relocated and the space altered to accommodate screening. Courthouse security officers will man the screening station.
Bids authorized this week will be opened April 5, with work expected to begin in early May.
In other business, commissioners approved a one-year contract agreement with the approximately 30 employees of the solid waste division. The contract provides no wage increase this year and no increase in the county's contribution toward higher health insurance premiums.