PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The 2019 Christmas season will be one of the last times the general public can freely visit the South Dakota Capitol without being required to go through a security checkpoint.
State Bureau of Administration officials explained the coming changes Friday to the Capitol Complex Restoration and Beautification Commission.
State employees from the bureau’s buildings and grounds office had already started work several days before in the office space directly west of the Capitol’s north-side entrance.
What’s coming is a walled-off entrance that most people must use.
The ones who won’t have to go through it will be state legislators and state government employees who work in the Capitol.
People who work in the Capitol currently have pass-cards they can use to get into the building through any set of entrances.
The doors on the east, south and west side already are locked to anyone trying to enter without a pass-card. The only doors open to the public at this point are those on the north side.
That will still be the case after the new security checkpoint is operating. The difference will be that visitors, whether lawyers arguing before the South Dakota Supreme Court or a bus full of tourists, will have to use the checkpoint.
But legislators and employees who work in the Capitol will get to by-pass the screening area. They’ll be able to use a second inside door that can’t be opened from the outside without a pass-card. All of the doors will let people out of the building.
Under the new system, the public will be routed into a waiting area. People will go through a metal detector. Their bags will be put through an X-ray machine. Five cameras will track their movements in the area.
People won’t have to show identification, however.
“If approved, we would start for the legislative session,” Highway Patrol Colonel Rick Miller told commissioners Friday.
The colonel spoke over the telephone to the rest of the group that had gathered in the governor’s large conference room on the Capitol’s second floor.
The question for the commission Friday was whether to allow aluminum that looks like wood to be used for the new door frames inside the new entry.
The commission’s duties are defined in a chapter of South Dakota laws, including one that puts the panel in charge of all necessary plans for the complex, and another that reserves various authorities the commission has independent of the commissioner of administration.
Several commission members asked questions of the colonel and Leah Svendsen, the bureau’s special projects coordinator.
Mayor Steve Harding wanted assurance the 2019 Christmas tree display wouldn’t be affected.
“It would not be this year, that is correct,” the colonel replied. He added, “It’s like 19 seconds to walk through. We don’t anticipate a lot of holdup.” Looking ahead to the 2020 display, he said: “By Christmas tree time, we hope every bug is worked out and there won’t be a long delay.”
Harding, former First Lady Pat Miller and retired state employee Don Zeller wondered about various other things.
Svendsen said the screening room would have space for about 100 people at any one time.
“We have a lot of room in there, like for a bus tour, to stand inside,” Svendsen said. She explained there would be signage outside on light poles informing people they would need to be screened and listing examples of prohibited items such as knives. She added that security personnel wouldn’t be “babysitting” any items that weren’t allowed through.
There will be a bench and a congregating area for people to wait for others to get through the screening, Svendsen said.
Sandy Zinter, who had worked in the Capitol when she was state commissioner of personnel, asked whether this was part of a master plan for security and whether there would be any additional steps.
Outside, a new security wall of sturdy metal and concrete pillars stood in a half-circle where there had previously been shrubs and a light fence, and two new thick, knee-high posts of heavy metal were sunk into the ground, all to keep vehicles from ramming into the building’s north entrance.
The east entrance has only a short sidewalk leading to it and the west entrance isn’t protected, but there are plans to continue a security ring around most of the building. The main entrance facing Capitol Avenue is on the second floor and has a long flight of cement stairs that a typical vehicle would have difficulty getting up.
“It wasn’t triggered by any one specific event,” Colonel Miller told Zinter. He said “events around the U.S.” led to the increase in security. He added, “I think you’ll see it more and more as you go through different places.”
The colonel noted the state Public Safety Building now has a check-point and said “active-shooter situations” can be prevented when security measures like what’s planned at the Capitol are in place. “Still keeping it open, anybody can visit,” he said.
Pat Miller asked whether times will change for public access to the Capitol. Colonel Miller said there aren’t data on when people arrive and leave. Svendsen said the security checkpoint will open at 8 a.m. for regular business hours, but will be open longer during legislative session from 7 a.m. until legislators gavel out.
State commissioner of administration Scott Bollinger said the state Revenue Department’s building also has a security checkpoint. More buildings will be secured in the years ahead, he said, with the Kneip Building next. It already has a front desk where visitors are asked to sign in The Becker-Hansen building that houses the state Department of Transportation has a main-desk sign-in too.
“We’re not going to do it all at once, because we don’t have the money to do it all at once,” Bollinger said. “We will continue to work down this path.”
Mayor Harding described the situation as “unfortunate” but said precautions are needed.
“We had to do the same thing at city hall,” Harding said. “I think this will work real well and fit the historical things in the Capitol.”