County moving forward with plans to increase security at courthouse, schools

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County commissioners are moving forward with plans to improve security at the Hancock County Courthouse and at local elementary schools.

Entering the New Cumberland courthouse is now a matter of walking unimpeded through two sets of glass doors. Come this fall, commissioners hope to keep the entrance convenient for the public while increasing the level of security.

“Unfortunately, the way things are in the world, we would rather be safe than sorry,” Commissioner Jeff Davis said.

“It’s just the way the times are,” Commissioner Dan Greathouse said. “We have some security in the courtrooms, but we feel it would be nice to put that in the front entrance as well.”

Similar to the setup in other surrounding courthouses, the Hancock County Courthouse entrance would include an X-ray machine, a walk-through metal detector, additional cameras and security personnel, said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

The county has a $300,000 courthouse security grant with which to purchase the additional security apparatus and pay the personnel for a year, Zielinsky said.

The big question mark is how much it will cost the county to design and engineer a new entrance, including, but not limited to, construction of a new vestibule, reconfiguration of interior partitions and doorways, and modifications to the plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, Zielinsky said.

Commissioners have hired the LBRA Architecture firm, of Weirton, to design the entrance and develop a cost estimate that could be used in a bid package. Zielinsky hopes that bid package will be ready to advertise by the June 6 commissioners’ meeting.

Preliminary plans call for the courthouse entrance to be extended to the left of the current doorway, into the area now used for voter registration and early voting purposes. There, visitors would encounter two armed guards who would ask them to put their belongings – briefcases, purses, backpacks – through an X-ray machine.

While the items are being checked, visitors would be asked to step through a metal detector. If the alarm sounded, visitors also would be checked with a hand-held scanner before going through a second set of doors and into the main courthouse hallway.

“It’s similar to what you encounter at the airport,” Zielinsky said, noting that the glass around the entrance will be treated with impact-resistant window film.

The new entrance likely will be staffed by part-time officers under the authority of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said.

Commissioners also are looking for a way to boost security at three county elementary schools – Allison Elementary in Chester, New Manchester Elementary and the new Weirton elementary school, currently under construction.

The new Weirton school will bring the students of Liberty, Broadview and Weirton Heights Elementary schools under one roof in the 2014-15 school year.

Commissioners have authorized Fletcher to apply for a matching grant that would cover the cost of three Prevention Resource Officers for three years. The 50/50 match through the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services would be enough for an entry-level salary of $3,028 a month per officer, Fletcher said.

“This is an excellent opportunity to provide the Hancock County elementary schools with the same prevention, safety and secure educational environment as our middle and high school students enjoy,” he said.

The PRO program currently puts two sheriff’s deputies in Oak Glen High School and Middle School and two police officers in Weir High School and Middle School. Funding comes from the state of West Virginia, the county commissioners and the Hancock County school board.

Commissioners began talking about better elementary school security in January, not long after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Commissioners have discussed expanding the PRO program, including funding sources, with Superintendent Suzan Smith and will do so again, Greathouse said.

The COPS grant, if approved, likely will take effect in the 2014-15 school year, Fletcher said.

In a related matter, commissioners recently approved the hiring of Dante Lamont Jeter as a new sheriff’s deputy. A Hancock County native, Jeter lives in Charleston and works for the West Virginia Inspector General’s Office, Fletcher said.

Jeter will start work as a probationary deputy on May 30, filling the vacancy left by the recently-retired Chief Deputy Todd Murray.

(Huba can be contacted at