Plans for improving security at the State Capitol are $2 million short of the needed dollars.
The interim director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Pat Santos, told legislators Thursday that only $500,000 is available for the project.
The plan developed by the Joint Committee on Homeland Security calls for $2.5 million to build guard shacks and make other protective improvements at the 82-year-old building.
“We’re going to obviously have to scale back the plans,” said Assistant Commissioner of Administration Jerry Jones.
The committee has been working for more than a year on ways to improve security at a building that draws tourists from around the world, houses the Governor’s Office and serves as the site where state laws are debated and enacted.
X-ray machines have been added to scan visitors’ belongings. But concerns remain about the ease with which someone could pull up next to the building with a truckload of explosives.
“This Capitol was designed for the public to have access, but at the same time we want them to have security,” said state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia.
The committee opted earlier this year for a plan that involves gate arms, guard shacks and video cameras to restrict who can pull into the parking lot used by legislative leaders and the governor.
The director of state buildings, Billy Wilson, said the first phase of the project calls for spending $1.5 million to secure the rear of the State Capitol, where legislators park and where the governor enters the building to reach his private elevator.
Wilson said a guard shack would be placed on the east side near Arsenal Park and the road that hugs the lake would possibly become a two-way street.
“We don’t want a truck to be able to drive around the barricades and be able to get to the Capitol,” he said.
Jones said the Division of Administration, which oversees state construction projects, is ready to begin the work.
“We’re ready to expedite it. We have hired designers. Frankly, at this point, we’re waiting on feedback from you,” he told the committee.
State Rep. Ernest Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse, asked how long the state has known that the project is $2 million short.
Jones said he did not know until Thursday that only $500,000 was available.
“That’s not a whole lot of money. Have we looked everywhere we can?” Wooton asked.
Santos said dollars are shrinking for federal funding and grants. He said as future dollars come, that money can be put toward improving security at the State Capitol.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to pick something,” said state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.
He said security arms at the entrances to the parking lots may have to take the place of the planned guard shacks.
State Rep. Bodi White, R-Central, raised the possibility of dipping into the legislative budget surplus to accomplish the work.
In the end, the committee decided to explore what can be done with $500,000.