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November 19, 2018
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Commission approves plans to improve federal building security measures

By Tia Lyons
This article was published February 9, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

The El Dorado Historic District Commission approved plans Thursday for work that will improve security for federal employees and restore architectural features at the El Dorado Federal Center.

Blake Dunn, of CADM Architecture, Inc., presented a Certificate of Appropriateness request on behalf of property owner Pete Dunn (no relation to Blake Dunn) of Deep Water Companies, which is based in Fairfax, Virginia.

Blake Dunn explained that the COA application contained two components that will cover internal and external work for the federal building, 101 S. Jackson, which houses federal courtrooms, a federal judge’s office and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The two-part COA includes work to improve security in the parking area and lower levels of the building and to restore the doors at public access points on the north, west and south sides of the building.

Blake Dunn said the modifications will comply with mandates from the U.S. Marshals and the U.S. Department of Justice as part of comprehensive plan to improve security for federal judges and their staff.

He said the project will be covered by the Federal Government.

The work calls for new construction with a brick security screen on the former U.S. Postal Service loading dock on the east side of the building and secured, fenced parking area.

He noted that U.S. Circuit Judge Bobby Shepherd is planning to move his office back to the federal center later this year, joining U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey.

“This will bring him up to parity with his colleagues across the country. It will provide a secure pathway up to what used to be the loading dock,” Blake Dunn said. “They’ve done the same thing at federal buildings in Texarkana and Fort Smith.”

Blake Dunn said federal employees will need a pass code to access the parking lot once the work is completed.

The work will also aid in transporting inmates to court, Blake Dunn said.

Additionally, interior security checkpoints for people heading to Federal Court will be moved to the first floor, Blake Dunn said.

Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, said she had contacted the Arkansas State Historic Preservation Office about the project, noting that a Memorandum of Agreement was drawn when Pete Dunn acquired the property after the USPS moved its operations to the Timberlane facility.

When the Federal Government owned the building, Eggleston said a federal Section 106 Review was required for proposed work on the historic property, which is a contributing structure within the city’s commercial historic district.

“I wanted to see if that was still a requirement,” Eggleston said.

Commission Chairman Linda Rathbun asked why the State Historic Preservation Office was concerned with interior work, noting that, like the EHDC’s COA process, SHPO focuses on exterior projects for historic properties and districts.

“Because (the federal center) is so unique,” Blake Dunn said, adding that preserving the historic building also helps with opportunities for tax credits for restoration work.

He said the work will not cover the areas that are included in the Memorandum of Agreement.

He said Pete Dunn also plans to maintain the post office boxes for their aesthetic quality once the USPS moves out completely later this year.

Shepherd’s office will occupy a third of the first floor on the southern end, and the former USPS retail space will be restored.

Pete Dunn previously discussed the possibility of moving a restaurant into the building, but Blake Dunn said Thursday that idea is no longer part of the master design plan for the building.

Eggleston inquired about drawings that have appeared in publications, such as the El Dorado Insider, that showed that the building will be expanded.

“That design for expansion is for additional judicial space. It’s going to strictly be a judicial complex,” Blake Dunn said.

Also part of the COA he presented will be the replacement of the public access doors that lead to the lobby.

Blake Dunn said the steel doors and frames will be replaced with bronze, which were part of the original design of the building.

He said the existing doors have rusted.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@eldoradonews.com.

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