Federal Center Security Project approved by Historic Dist. Commission

The El Dorado Historic District Commission has approved a project that will improve security features at the El Dorado Federal Center, 101 N. Jackson.

EHDC has approved the application for a certificate of adequacy which was submitted on November 10 by local architect Blake Dunn, of CADM Architecture, Inc.

Dunn submitted the COA application and described the project on behalf of building owner Pete Dunn (no relation), a Virginia-based real estate developer who has family ties to Union County and owns several properties in the downtown, including the Armstrong Building, home to PJ’s Coffee and El Dorado Creamery, and the building historically known as the Security (Social) Building at 215 – 217 E. Main.

Certificates of Adequacy are required for most exterior projects in the city’s historic commercial district.

The Federal Center previously housed the U.S. Postal Service and is now privately owned which houses the Federal Courts and the El Dorado Division of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Blake said the proposed project will help improve security measures for US Marshals, court personnel and the general public.

Interior spaces occupied by the USMS are scattered throughout the building, and marshals are consolidating spaces — including administrative offices, the prisoner processing room and holding cells — on the lower levels of the Federal Center, Blake said.

He explained that the space available within EFC does not match the scheduled square footage specified by the USMS and the US General Services Administration.

With plans to relocate USMS operations, the intent of the project is to create a secure vehicle sallyport in the rear parking lot of the Federal Center and to enclose a portion of the loading dock to meet Federal specifications in feet squares.

The sallyport is required by the USMS to transport defendants to court and in order to comply with the requirement, part of the parking lot just east of the loading dock will be surrounded by a high security palisade.

“The main concern is that when (defendants) are brought to trial or have been arrested, there is no clear way for them to get to court without encountering the public or staff,” Blake said.

He said the central part of the loading dock will be closed, leaving about 25 feet of space that will continue to function as a loading dock.

He also said the same brick and mortar will be used to match existing building materials.

“We’re trying to minimize the enclosure and not disrupt the pace of existing construction. The columns will also still be there,” Blake said.

“Is this a common feature of courthouses?” asked EHDC President Ken Bridges.

“It does and it’s one of those that haven’t been bettered,” Blake said.

Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, noted that in addition to criminal cases, civil trials and other federal court proceedings are also held at the EFC.

She asked if the project would affect access to civil courts.

Dunn said the elevator provides “full access” to all three floors of EFC.

“There will be no audience at the south end of the building. All of the audience will be at the north end of the building so they don’t have to cross paths with (defendants),” Blake said.

Commissioner Steve Biernacki asked what course of action the federal government could take if the EHDC did not approve the COA.

Blake said he believed the federal government would have the ability to overturn the EHDC decision, adding, “You’re going to get a lot of pushback from the courts here.”

Commissioner Linda Rathbun said she wanted there to be a function in the building that was available for community use.

Biernacki, who is the executive director of the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, said that when the group runs historical walking tours of downtown, they usually start at the EFC.

“We tell people how pretty it is, but we can’t get into it,” Biernacki said.

Commissioners and Blake noted earlier discussions about the possibility of converting EFC into a mixed-use property and even opening a restaurant in the building.

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