Andrea Beall, Puyallup’s new municipal court judge, shared with city council members her concerns for safety at the court building leased by the city on East Main.
“Where we are right now is very unsecure for a number of reasons,” Beall said during a special council meeting Feb. 26.
Beall said she doesn’t have a secure way to enter and exit the building.
“I have to use the main entrance, or I have to use the back door,” she said. “The back door enters directly into one of the courtrooms, so if Milton is using the court that day, then I can’t use the back door unless I get there very early. So, I have to walk in the general entrance with everyone else.”
Beall added there are only metal detectors at the entrance of the courtroom. Access to the windows, staff doors, public restrooms and courtroom 2 is all unsecured, she said.
“It would be very easy for someone to plot against a member of the court, should they have the inclination, and unfortunately we’ve all heard of the incidents where that does occur,” Beall said.
A new contract with Milton means Puyallup provides court services for that city, and Beall said the parking capacity already is at its maximum.
“I think the best way to address these security concerns would be a new facility,” Beall said. “If we had a new facility where the police department and jail were closer, not only would we have more security, we would have more efficiency.”
Beall addressed the council during a strategic planning discussion as recommended by interim City Manager Bill McDonald.
At the top of the list was the idea to build a new public safety building that would include police, courts and the jail.
It’s envisioned by city staff and council members to be a regional justice center that would serve multiple municipalities throughout east Pierce County.
In recent weeks, McDonald, Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen and other city staff members have been in conversations with Helix Design, a Tacoma-based architectural firm that specializes in the front-end design of public safety buildings. McDonald said they are in a conceptual phase.
Council members gave McDonald the green light last week to proceed with preliminary programming, which includes interviews with staff members in current public safety buildings and asking what kind of space they require.
McDonald said this next feasibility stage will cost $4,000.
“In a couple of months, we will report back to the council to say what the footprint will look like,” McDonald said in a later phone interview. “This will get us closer to having a conversation with the public.”
McDonald said the start of constructing a new building is still a few years away. Following a feasibility study, a bond issue or some kind of financing strategy would have to be established, architectural designs would need to be fleshed out, and property would have to be identified and acquired.
Council member John Knutsen recognized the urgency and said everyone would like to see a new public safety building. However, he said millions in dollars in debt service that the city is facing is crippling the city’s ability to put forward any sort of effort.
“So how do we get to where we want to be?” Knutsen asked. “I would not do this through the council. I would put a bond issue out before the public and let them decide.”
Beall asked the council to consider the cost of not constructing a new public safety building.
“If there is a security incident, the city is going to be at great risk, being aware that our current facility is not a secure one,” she said.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.