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House, Senate to undergo security renovations in response to global attacks

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As his parting gift to the “People’s House” Arizona House Speaker David Gowan is installing metal detectors, gun lockers and is overhauling the House lobby, to the tune of at least $290,000.

The construction project comes in the wake of several other large-scale construction projects the House has planned or executed since Gowan became speaker in 2015, and on the heels of Gowan’s attempt to force the press to undergo detailed background checks to enter secured areas of the building.

The remade House will funnel visitors through two new front entrance doors with metal detectors and turnstiles in the center of the House front entrance, though the current doors will still be available to employees and credentialed press.

The lobby overhaul also includes a new north wall entrance into House Hearing Room 1 and a ‘media welcome center” in the lobby. The glass wall and doors on the House will also be covered with shatter-proof film.

The overhaul will also include a $90,000 “specialty item” that the House redacted in records released to reporters today, citing a security risk.

“While saddened by the need for these measures, the modifications are long overdue in light of the global increase in attacks on public venues. I believe these are reasonable and convenient safety measures that strike a balance between providing for public safety and allowing ‘The People’s House’ to remain accessible to the public,” Gowan said in a prepared statement announcing the construction.

Gowan didn’t answer a call for comment, and his chief of staff, Tami Stowe, originally told the Arizona Capitol Times she didn’t know how much the project was slated to cost.

It seems lawmakers were also kept out of the loop on the details of the plan.

Republican Rep. J.D. Mesnard, who is favored to replace Gowan as speaker next year, as Gowan has hit his term limits in the House, said he had heard rumors of the project, but no details as of Thursday morning.

“I don’t know what the final plans are or how much it would cost. Obviously cost is something I would be sensitive to, but as far as the goal of making sure we take some precautions, I think that’s worthwhile,” he said.

Mesnard noted that Gowan is still the speaker and has the prerogative to do whatever construction he sees fit.

“I may agree with some of these decisions, or not. But I agree with the concept of making sure the House is safe. But that can look a lot of different ways,” he said.

The Senate has also begun implementing new security measures, though they pale in scale and cost to the renovations underway in the House. All told, the Senate’s security upgrades will cost roughly $70,000.

Like the House, visitors will now be directed through two doors at the center of the Senate’s lobby, where before, foot traffic went through open doors either to the left or the right sides of the lobby, according to Majority Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo. Those side doors will now remain locked, though keycard access will be granted to lawmakers, staff and badge-carrying members of the press.

“Like the House, we’re going to use the center doors for access. We’re not going to do metal detectors. We’re not going to do a major transformation,” Baldo said. “The House has grandiose schemes. At one point, they were even talking about doing a Kevlar wall in front of Hearing Room 1.”

Unlike the House, the Senate already has doors installed in the center of the lobby. They were simply locked and blocked by benches in the past.

In addition, all the glass at the front of the lobby will be fitted with a shatter-proof film, at a cost of roughly $35,000, Baldo said.

Security cameras are also being installed at the sides of the Senate building, as well as in the staff parking area at Wesley Bolin Plaza. The cameras and new access door are designed to give the Senate’s security staff a few extra seconds to keep an eye on who’s entering the building, Baldo said.

Signs are going up on October 27 to direct visitors to the new entryway. Baldo said the goal is to add an extra layer of protection, while still keeping the building as open as possible to the public.

“The Senate always tried to be very accessible to the public and we’re not going to go down the road of metal detectors,” Baldo said.

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