The 80-year-old U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Lexington will get a nearly $5 million security upgrade over the next 24 months.
On the rear of the four-story Barr Street building, workers will build a small, private parking garage for judges and an enclosed sally port entrance for prisoners who are scheduled to make courtroom appearances. They also will build separate elevators for judges and prisoners that attach to the garage and sally port, respectively.
The estimated cost of this "security annex" will be about $4.5 million to $5 million, U.S. District Chief Judge Karen Caldwell said Friday after a ground-breaking ceremony.
At present, prisoners enter and leave the courthouse by crossing an open parking lot that borders two private school campuses, which is not considered good security, Caldwell said. Likewise, the interior currently offers a common set of hallways and elevators for judges, prisoners and the public, which is also a potential problem, Caldwell said.
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"Money is so tight now, there isn't any money for building a new courthouse. And we really didn't need more space overall," Caldwell said.
"It's going to be a challenge for us," she added. "There will be a lot of noise. We've asked for the patience of our neighbors at St. Peter and Paul School and Sayre School."
Apart from the security annex, workers will add a handicapped-accessible jury deliberation room on the second floor and a larger jury box in a fourth-floor courtroom that will allow trials to be held there.
The courthouse is the hub of the federal judicial system's Eastern District of Kentucky. The district's other courthouses are in Frankfort, Covington, Ashland, Pikeville and London.
Over the past decade or more, federal courthouses have tightened security in various ways. This has included evicting non-judicial agencies, such as the post office, which once occupied the ground floor of Lexington's courthouse; erecting physical barriers between the public and court personnel; and requiring visitors to show photo identification, surrender their electronic gadgets and pass through metal detectors at the entrance.