Fairfield wants to stop unfettered access to city building in $1M security upgrade

Fairfield could spend at least $1 million over two years to secure its two primary administrative municipal buildings, which the police chief called “long overdue.”

As it stands now, the public has unfettered access to the municipal building at 5350 Pleasant Ave., where the city manager, development services and finance departments are headquartered. There is similar access next door to the municipal building annex, 701 Wessel Drive, where the city’s income tax division is located.

“In today’s day and age, any building of this nature that has unrestricted access is just outdated,” Police Chief Steve Maynard said. “Anyone can walk into the front door and have access to the city manager, the assistant city manager and anyone that works in the building.”

FAIRFIELD NEWS: How Fairfield has helped improve the world’s water quality for 25 years

Maynard also said there is no process to determine who is in the two buildings, both public and staff.

The city hired an architect to provide preliminary drawings for the municipal building and annex that would address Maynard’s security concerns.

City Manager Mark Wendling said the goal is to keep the cost to less than $1 million. However, he said he doesn’t “know if that’s realistic, but we’ll quickly find out.”

“We’re hoping to move forward with some detailed plans in the next few months,” he said.

In addition to securing the 54-year-old city building, Wendling said the changes will allow the city to minimize its footprint, address undersed spaces and make city operations function more efficiently.

The last major renovation happened in 1992. Carpet and wallpaper were replaced around 1997, bathrooms were updated in the early 2000s and council chambers were renovated in 2009.

“I think that barriers are needed anymore because you just don’t know,” Mayor Steve Miller said. “You hate to do it, and you hate to spend the money, but you don’t have a choice nowadays.”

And the safety of the city’s employees are a priority, said Wendling.

“Not to invoke Virginia Beach, but that guy invoked a lot of damage in just a few minutes,” the city manager said. “It did not take long.”

FAIRFIELD NEWS: Starting from two small booths, this new Fairfield business has replaced a longtime gift store

On May 31, a former Virginia Beach city employee fatally shot 12 people and wounded four in a mass shooting at a municipal building that housed the public works, utilities and planning departments. Wendling said the Virginia Beach shooting wasn’t the motivation behind the decision as discussions had begun at the beginning of the year.

Miller said there are “not too many buildings in our inventory you can walk right in.”

Some of the proposed changes include:

• Installing a glass barrier in the lobby that would require visitors to check in and out

• Secure wings in the halls to limit the public’s access during City Council meeting nights

• Relocate utility billing to the annex building (which allows finance employees to be cross-trained)

• Relocate the Fairfield Community Foundation within the city building

• Relocate the receptionists

Wendling said officials would like to proceed with construction drawings this year. Architectural and engineering work will need the council’s approval.

Construction would be done in phases as the city staff would not leave the building during renovations, Wendling said. If City Council approves the work, the project is expected to be out to bid by January, started in 2020 and finished by 2021.

About the Author