Fulton commission approves courthouse security upgrade

After hearing from the widow of a judge who was gunned down in his courtroom, the Fulton County Commission on Wednesday approved plans to upgrade security at the courthouse.

Just a week ago, the commission had removed the security upgrades from consideration, only to put themback on the agenda after top courthouse officials protested. It will be the first major security upgrade at the courthouse since Brian Nichols shot and killed three people there on March 11, 2005.

"I'm just thrilled they passed it," Claudia Barnes, who addressed the commission, said after the vote. "It's past time the judges got the support they need to keep the justice center tower safe so we don't have another fiasco like we did back then."

Barnes' late husband, Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, was one of the three courthouse personnel who were killed, was presiding over Nichols' rape trial. Nichols overwhelmed a deputy in a holding cell and then used her gun during his murderous escape.

The commission voted to use low-interest federal stimulus bonds to finance a $4.5 million security command center at the Lewis R. Slaton Courthouse. The new center will enable deputies to monitor security throughout the sprawling complex and respond immediately to any emergency, Chief Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright said.

The commission voted to include the command center with a number of other projects to be financed with $26.4 million in stimulus bonds.

The project that generated the most controversy Wednesday was a $5 million aviation museum and community center near Fulton County Airport-Charlie Brown Field.

Commissioners Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards, whose district includes the Fulton County Industrial Boulevard area, strongly supported the center, noting it has been in the works for more than a decade.

The center will depict the history of aviation and tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a number of whom attended the hearing and were recognized by the commission. The center could encourage youth from the surrounding neighborhoods to consider a career in aviation, Darnell said.

But Commissioner Tom Lowe strongly opposed it, noting it will cost the county more than $300,000 a year to operate.

He called it a future Fanplex -- the failed amusement park next to Turner Field -- and predicted it would attract few people except for students on school field trips.

"If we're going to build an aviation center you better look at where it is," Lowe said. "It isn't going to be successful at the end of a runway. It's ridiculous."

In a separate vote, the commission agreed to use about $1.5 million in untapped bonds for a security upgrade at the Fulton County Juvenile Court and a reentry center at the county jail to combat recidivism.

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