City of Aspen stepping up its security at public buildings |

City of Aspen stepping up its security at public buildings

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Gabriella Rand, who works for the Community Development Department at Aspen City Hall enters through the back door of the building on Thursday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

During a time when mass shootings and attacks in public buildings are on the top of officials’ minds, the city of Aspen is making moves to better secure its facilities.

As staff continue to assess its nearly two dozen buildings, they’ve realized there are deficiencies in many places.

“Anyone can walk into our buildings at any time and that’s not good,” said Jack Wheeler, the city’s capital asset director.

He added that as he and his team began planning a new municipal office building and looking at the design of Aspen police’s public safety facility, the city’s aging infrastructure has security breaches.

“Security for our operations, employees and customers has always been a priority,” he said. “But times are changing and there are more unsafe conditions.”

As a result, they are considering everything from a universal door-lock system for all city-owned buildings to cutting off public access to side and back doors, and possibly putting a protective ballistic liner inside City Council’s table.

That last measure came up as an idea after staff looked at places where people would be able to take refuge in City Hall if an attacker came in.

“Are we really different than anyone else?” asked Jeff Pendarvis, the city’s facilities and property manager. “We are one incident away from having a tragedy and being the next Sandy Hook.

Securing buildings to protect employees and members of the public inside of them is a delicate balancing act when considering the small-town mentality residents have here.

“The question is, what’s right for Aspen?” Pendarvis asked.

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said the new public safety building on Main Street was designed with that in mind.

“I think this community demands openness and access,” he said. “They want to talk to us and interact with us.”

But as Aspen Police Sgt. Bill Linn said, while the new cop shop will be open to the public, their access will be limited. Gone are the days where a person can just walk into a patrol room — or his office or Pryor’s — as it once was in the basement of the courthouse.

“Having a modern security system will illuminate how it feels,” Linn said.

He and other city staff have done site visits in other cities across the country to see how they have designed their government buildings with new security measures in mind. And what they gleaned from those field trips is that Aspen is still is a small town with a small-town character.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Linn said.

Pryor said it’s a difficult balancing act to keep public buildings open yet access limited. But it’s for the greater good.

“Idealistically, nothing should happen here, but what if it did?” Pryor said Wednesday, the day when a teenager gunned down 17 people at a South Florida school. “It’s sensible to take some basic precautions.”

Mayor Steve Skadron recalled several years ago when the head of the preschool at the city-owned Yellow Brick asked for fingerprint access to the building.

“We were all disappointed that we had come to that place,” he said, acknowledging that times have changed. “I want employees to feel safe and have the public feel welcome.”

While the city’s effort to make its properties more secure is a couple of years in the making, it only came to light recently when it limited access to Aspen resident Lee Mulcahy, who is embroiled in a lawsuit with the local housing authority and has made veiled threats to government officials.

Mulcahy cannot access City Hall or the Mill Street annex building without having made an appointment prior. He also must be escorted by a designated city official. The city said his bad behavior is a violation of the city’s workplace safety policy.

Alissa Farrell, the city’s director of human resources, said she is asking all departments to make sure they have protocols in place in the event an attacker enters their workspaces. And there is a focus on training new employees on what the city’s workplace safety policy is so there is no question.

“We are taking it to the next level and just making people aware while balancing customer service,” she said.

The city’s asset team emphasized that the public will still have access to their government buildings, but just not to every room inside of them at all hours of the day and night. Eventually, access cards and locked doors will be commonplace.

While there is no set plan or budget for the security measures, the next focus is working on lock systems at City Hall, the Mill Street annex building and the Red Brick Arts Center.

“That’s the low-hanging fruit,” Wheeler said, adding little money has gone toward the effort. But what has been spent has been on retrofitting new spaces the city has occupied over the past couple of years.

“I liken it to ADA access and making that more normalized,” Wheeler said. “We think it’s the right thing to do.”