Every community wants its municipal center to be a welcoming space for those who have business there. However, it is equally important that the building is safe.
After some troubling encounters, including incidents that required the response of law enforcement, Hanford, Calif., has taken steps to ensure that its city hall is secure.
“Security was virtually nonexistent at city hall when our city council approved this project,” said Hanford Community Relations Manager Brian Johnson. “Members of the public could not only walk through the building’s main hallway but also access the administration offices freely.”
Better customer experiences
Located in the San Joaquin Valley, Hanford is 200 miles from the greater Los Angeles area and is the county seat of Kings County. Incorporated on August 8, 1891, Hanford offers a blend of both old and new and for the 58,496 people who call the community home. It is a safe, family-oriented municipality where a high quality of life is not merely an aspiration, but something built into the city culture.
The building in which Hanford City Hall is located was previously the home of Kings Harvest Savings and Loan. The city took over the building in the late 1980s, and while it offers plenty of space to accomplish city business, the layout is a product of its time and long overdue for a 21st-century upgrade.
Recognizing that a modicum of security was required to put the building on par with other workplaces and government buildings throughout the country, in 2019 a plan for improvements was drafted and the Hanford City Council appropriated $180,000 from the general fund for the enhancements. Unfortunately, the renovation was delayed, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other high-priority projects.
Today, a little more than half of the budget has been spent on the main enhancement – a new front counter, which faces the 319 N. Douty St. entrance. Behind the large glass window, there are two workstations where city staff can serve members of the public. Johnson said that the front counter addition took two months to complete, and he expects the public to have a better customer service experience with the addition of the counter.
“Oftentimes previously, the public wasn’t sure where to go once they entered the building. Now it is very clear where they can be served. When it opened, we closed public access to the back entrance of city hall and that entrance is now reserved for full-time city employees and is adjacent to the permitted parking area,” he said. “An intercom has been installed at that entrance in case an employee forgets their ID badge or key fob, or if the public has any questions about access. A glass window and door have also been installed at the Community Development counter at 317 N. Douty St.”
More to come
Still to be completed are some aesthetic improvements in the space between the Douty Street entrance and the new front counter. On one wall, there will be a screen that will display important information about city programs, initiatives and events. A large, custom-made map of downtown Hanford showcasing the location of historical landmarks will cover the entire opposite wall. There is a plan to install block lettering with a welcome message above the front counter.
Johnson said that the enhancements have made the people who work and use the building feel safer.
“This has been a welcome change for city staff. We recognize that it will be an adjustment for some employees who work off-site and only occasionally visit city hall, but overall, the response has been positive,” he said.
Hanford isn’t the only community working to make its city buildings safer. In April 2022, the city of Columbus, Ind., sent out a request for proposals to purchase and install security cameras at its city hall, parking lots and the Evolution Training Center near the Columbus Municipal Airport. Columbia, Mo., approved $75,000 to enclose a first-floor reception area with a door that can lock from the inside, a glass barrier, a speaker system for public interaction and a new exit door.
Like Hanford, the two communities believe the improvements will help city staffers feel secure and provide better customer service to residents.
Hanford City Manager Mario Cifuentez said the city hall renovation project was not only designed to provide security for city employees but also to provide better customer service through a primary point of contact. “Previously, when citizens entered the hallway, they had their choice of several different doors and very little signage to direct them to the appropriate office to handle their specific issue. Now, not only will a city staff member be able to direct them to the appropriate office or counter, but odds are that the employee at the counter will be able to directly address their issue without having to send them to another counter.”