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One Washington Co. Courthouse entrance to close for safety

November 30, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The West Washington Street entrance to the Washington County Courthouse will be closed permanently, effective Dec. 7, to improve security, Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said.

Public access to the building will be available from the Summit Avenue entrance to the Courthouse Annex, he said.

The shift from two entrances to a single entrance was recommended in a 2006 report from the National Center for State Courts, an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization, Mullendore said.

"A single entrance and exit is more easily controlled than having multiple entrances and exits," he said.

In addition, the change allows for better utilization of courthouse security personnel, Mullendore said. The number of security personnel will not change, but the switch to one entrance will allow some security staff to be reallocated to the additional holding cells that were added as part of the recent courthouse renovation, Mullendore said.

Some of the other security features recommended in the study, such as a sally port and a separate elevator for inmates, were already implemented as part of the renovation project, he said.

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The National Center for State Courts studied courthouses throughout the state at the request of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mullendore said.

The study was conducted in the wake of a 2005 killing spree at an Atlanta courthouse in which a man on trial for rape murdered four people, including a judge, and led police on a 26-hour manhunt.

The Summit Avenue entrance to the Washington County Courthouse was chosen to remain open because it is the entrance that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is closer to the elevators, Mullendore said.

In addition, that entrance has an X-ray machine that would not fit at the other West Washington Street entrance because of offices, doorways and stairwells, he said.

The West Washington Street entrance will still be available for use as an emergency exit and will be accessible for first responders, Mullendore said.

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