Million reconfiguration of the Naval Academy front entrance will include visitor security measures

A $3.8

A makeover at the gate

December 16, 2005|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

The Naval Academy will begin a major reconfiguration of its front entrance next month that will lead to stepped-up security measures for visitors.

While increased security was the impetus for the $3.8 million project, Navy and Annapolis officials said the improved entrance would free up traffic at Randall and King George streets, where vehicles often back up on weekends when midshipmen are coming and going from the academy.

Under the plan, which was unveiled Monday, a pedestrian entrance will be built just west of the existing one on Randall Street and a walk-in entrance will be added at Craig and Prince George streets. Both are close to City Dock. Vehicles will continue to enter from King George Street, where a turning area for buses and a small parking lot will be added.

Annapolis preservationists have endorsed the plan because it will provide for an entryway more fitting for the academy, a historical landmark that is Maryland's most visited tourist destination with more than 2.2 million visitors a year.

The added security measures - which are similar to procedures added at military bases nationwide in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and will include metal detectors - were planned for late 2002 but were derailed when funding was diverted to major renovations after Tropical Storm Isabel caused heavy flooding at the campus.

The addition of the second walk-in entrance near City Dock will make the academy easier to find, said Cmdr. Tom McKavitt, who manages operations at the 160-year-old institution.

"This is going to be a really positive change," McKavitt said. "This will funnel people right to us from congregating points downtown."

Tuckman-Barbee Construction Co. of Upper Marlboro will begin construction Jan. 3 and is to finish in mid-May just before commencement ceremonies. During construction, Gate 1 may be closed to vehicles.

The renovations will knock out a section of the 8-foot-high wall along Randall Street and create a pedestrian entrance. A new wall will replace an existing fence along Prince George Street next to Halsey Field House, where the new pedestrian entrance will be. McKavitt said the new wall near the water's edge, designed in consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers, would protect the academy from flooding in the future.

The construction also will create a small parking lot and rotunda where buses and vehicles can park temporarily to unload or pick up passengers, or where visitors can stop to obtain entrance passes.

Upon entering, visitors will come into a landscaped parklike area with walkways that will lead to a visitor access center, where they will go through a security process not unlike that at an airport, McKavitt said.

They will most likely have to show identification and go through a metal detector, a big change from existing procedures that merely require visitors to display identification and walk onto the Yard.

At Gate 3, at Maryland Avenue and Club Road, visitors will not be screened and will only have to show identification as they do now, he said, unless a security threat causes the academy to shut the entrance to the public.

In a separate project, the academy will extend an internal fence on the Yard that may restrict access to Bancroft Hall - the midshipmen's enormous dormitory - and other academic buildings not open to the public, although the location of the fence has yet to be decided, McKavitt said.

The inner fence, as well as the Gate 1 changes, will allow the academy to continue operating and allowing visitors even if the threat level is raised, he said.

Mike Miron, the economic development coordinator for the city of Annapolis, said he didn't believe the added security measures would be a deterrent to visitors, and he hasn't heard any rumblings in the business community about the plans.

"The Naval Academy is such an attraction, people will visit there anyway," Miron said. "It's such a draw."

Historic preservationists in the city said they were enthusiastic about the plans.

William Schmickle, chairman of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, said he looked forward to seeing a beautified entrance and hoped the academy would preserve the large oak trees that shade the Randall Street walkway.

McKavitt said the large oaks would remain.

Gregory A. Stiverson, president of the Historical Annapolis Foundation, said the plan was a "terrific idea" because it would provide more pedestrian access, reduce traffic and replace an unsightly fence along Prince George Street with a brick wall.

"For such a small amount of geography that they had to work with, I thought they came up with a really brilliant solution," said Stiverson, who was briefed on the plan last week. "It will be a dramatic improvement to the overarching aesthetic appeal of the primary entrance at Gate 1. ... Right now, it's not a welcoming entrance to the Naval Academy. You don't have the sense that you've entered some place of national importance."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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