Officials are rolling out new security measures at the state Capitol this year, including machines that can scan identification cards, more cameras and permanent guard stations at each public entrance, observes The Tennessean. Similar measures are being implemented at adjoining Legislative Plaza, where lawmakers have their committee meetings.
Tighter security comes as state and national lawmakers prepare to debate the place of firearms in workplaces and schools. It also comes as the nation reacts to last year’s shootings in Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado.
But state officials deny there is a direct connection.
“It wasn’t a reaction to any one particular incident,” said state Comptroller Justin Wilson, a member of the State Building Commission, which signed off on the improvements.
“There’s just a need for greater security.”
The improvements are part of a larger renovation of the Capitol. Completed in December, the $15.7 million project mainly restored the Civil War-era building’s interior and upgraded the heating and cooling system. As planning for the project got under way, the Department of Safety and the Department of General Services recommended beefing up security.
The State Building Commission, most of whose members have offices in the Capitol, signed off on the improvements in late 2011. The decision came before the latest round of shootings, but it took place months after the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a political rally in Arizona. Occupy Nashville protesters were camped outside at the time.
The $15 million renovation of the state Capitol building, now underway, has inspired former state Rep. Robert Booker to do a bit of research and to reminiscence. A couple of excerpts from the resulting op-ed piece:
The “Tennessee Blue Book 1967-1968” says, “Prison labor was used for most of the stone cutting and for a large part of the actual construction work.” The book goes on to describe renovations to the building that began in January 1956, when it received “a new copper roof, new windows, and 90,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone to restore the steps and terraces.”
The Capitol was started during the administration of Gov. James Chamberlain Jones, a farmer of Wilson County who had been elected to the Legislature in 1837 and again in 1839. He served as governor from 1841 to 1845, and was the first native Tennessean to hold that office.
According to G.R. McGee in his book, “A History of Tennessee,” published in 1839, Jones was called “Lean Jimmy” because “he was six feet two inches high, and weighed only one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
…I was a member of the Legislature in 1968 when it was decided that we needed new furniture in the House and Senate chambers.
Each legislator had the opportunity to buy his or her desk and chair for $65. They came with a list of the men and women who had occupied them through the years.
For 44 years now I have used that cherry wood desk and chair in the office at my house.
The State Building Commission has approved spending $800,000 on updating a master plan for the future use of the old Tennessee State Prison on Cockrill Bend in West Nashville, reports The City Paper.
The castle-like structure, which was used in the movie The Green Mile, has sat vacant since 1992. The state-approved money will help piggyback off a 2007 study regarding the building and surrounding properties
One of the options for the building includes a $27 million renovation, according to a commission agenda. But Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield said abandoning the property wasn’t out of the question either.
A century and a half ago, the new Tennessee State Capitol was seized, fortified and transformed into Fortress Andrew Johnson by the Union Army during its Civil War occupation of Nashville.
Now, Richard Locker reports, the Capitol is becoming increasingly fortress-like again as a result of security measures already made and new ones under way.
State officials are keeping the details secret, but they include heightened security checkpoints, which already require citizens to produce photo IDs to enter, high-definition cameras inside and out, license-plate scanners and others not known.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he doesn’t know details of the security plan. “That funding decision was made by the Building Commission, not by us, and that’s really important to note. That being said, I would hope that part of the reason for additional security is to make it so people can still access the building instead of just sealing it off and saying, ‘I’m sorry, there’s too many security reasons why you can’t.'”
Security officials proposed X-ray body scanners but they were reportedly nixed in favor of less intrusive metal detectors first put up in 2001.
The 153-year-old State Capitol closed last week for an eight-month, $15.3 million renovation project that mostly involves new heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems and interior refurbishing.
But the State Building Commission also approved various unspecified “interior and exterior security upgrades” in November and February, after top officials of Haslam’s administration — Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons of Memphis and General Services Commissioner Steve Cates of Nashville — recommended a package of far-reaching upgrades. The “Master Security Plan” for the Capitol complex is confidential under state law.
The Building Commission is composed of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Secretary of State Tré Hargett, State Treasurer David Lillard, Comptroller Justin Wilson and Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. It approved the upgrades after private briefings and no public discussion.
State Architect Robert Oglesby referred questions to the General Services Department, where Assistant Commissioner Kelly Smith initially said she was unaware of any security components to the overall project. She later acknowledged them but would provide no details.
However, two sources familiar with the projects said they include upgrading the existing checkpoints and installing high-definition cameras throughout the interior of the Capitol, the Legislative Plaza Building where state legislative committee hearings are held, and the War Memorial Building, which houses legislative offices.
They also said powerful new cameras capable of recording close-up images of people will be installed outside the Capitol and atop nearby buildings for monitoring the public grounds outside the Capitol and War Memorial Plaza, a public square with fountains across from the Capitol that is the site of occasional protests.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam has relocated to temporary office space while the state Capitol gets renovated.
The work on the more than 150-year-old building includes repairs and upgrades to heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems.
The $15 million project is scheduled to be completed in December.
Much of the mechanical and electrical equipment being replaced was installed in 1955.
The governor and about 35 staffers have decamped to the 27th floor of the nearby William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower while the work is under way.
The end of the legislative session last week signaled that work on the Capitol could begin. Staffers packed up offices and art handlers got to work covering up busts to protect them against damage.
The governor’s suite in the Capitol includes a reception area, a conference room and his personal office. The deputy to the governor, the administration’s top lobbyist and the finance commissioner have also vacated their offices on the main floor of the Capitol.
The change is perhaps most striking for Haslam staffers with offices on the subterranean level. The level was designed as an armory and fuel depot, but was converted into offices in the 1950s.
Those aides — including Haslam’s communications and legal teams — now have windows with unobstructed views of city.
Also affected by the Capitol renovations are the offices of the House and Senate clerks and the state’s treasurer, comptroller and secretary of state.
The work was originally scheduled to take place in 2011, but the newly sworn-in Haslam administration didn’t want to immediately move out of the Statehouse upon taking office.
Construction fencing is going up around the Capitol grounds, and all public entrances will be locked for the duration of the project.
The Capitol was completed in 1859, but the General Assembly began using the unfinished building six years earlier.