Florida Capitol getting bulletproof windows as part of multimillion-dollar renovation

“The way things are going in the world, we saw an opportunity to harden the Capitol.”
Two construction workers put the finishing touches on the installation of bulletproof windows at the Florida Capitol on Aug. 18 in Tallahassee.
Two construction workers put the finishing touches on the installation of bulletproof windows at the Florida Capitol on Aug. 18 in Tallahassee. [ JEFFREY SCHWEERS | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 25|Updated Aug. 25

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature is spending millions of dollars beefing up security at the Capitol complex with expensive bulletproof windows while also making it easier for people to carry weapons into public areas.

The Legislature approved a $61.6 million window replacement project as part of a larger renovation of the Capitol. The 50-year-old leaking windows are being replaced along with the removal of the rusted metal louvers covering them.

“The windows are old and not ballistics-rated or bulletproof,” said Laurel Wilson, marketing director for the Childers Construction Co., construction manager for the overall project. “The way things are going in the world, we saw an opportunity to harden the Capitol.”

The Legislature approved the windows project in 2019, Florida Department of Management Services spokesperson Dan Barrow said. It is being carried out in phases and scheduled for completion by 2027, Barrow said.

“The purpose of the project is to replace all windows, which are original to the building, with a modernized window system that provides energy efficiency and security benefits,” Barrow said. “The new windows will be more resilient.”

He declined to provide further details.

“We don’t discuss specifics on security measures at the Capitol because doing so could compromise said security measures,” he said.

The governor’s office deferred questions to the Department of Management Services.

The budget language for the renovation project only says that security improvements would be made.

“That’s kind of intense,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, when she was told the Legislature approved bulletproofing the Capitol as part of the project. “I just assumed it was a general renovation.”

But she said she also understands the need for increased protection given the volatile nature of politics in Florida and America today, and the increased attacks on vulnerable populations, including the LGBTQ+ and transgender communities.

“We have such polarized politics, as illustrated by the types of emails I get whenever controversial topics come up,” she said, including the recent removal of Monique Worrell, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties.

She said she found it ironic that, at the same time, the Legislature loosened gun laws to make it easier to carry weapons in public “instead of taking steps to ensure the public’s safety.”

Eskamani was referring to the bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that took effect July 1 eliminating the need to obtain a permit to carry a concealed gun in public as long as a person meets the same qualifications as the permit law and carries valid state identification.

“There is a real cognitive dissonance here … we’re passing policies that make people less safe and around more guns,” Eskamani said. “The policies the Legislature pushes don’t make us more safe.”

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After the death of George Floyd sparked the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Florida Legislature approved an “anti-riot” bill backed by DeSantis that places restrictions on people engaged in peaceful protests and increases the penalties for violence and damage to property incurred during protests and marches. The law also grants immunity to people who drive into crowds of protesters.

“I am aware of the climate where extremists are attacking our most vulnerable folks, the transgendered,” Eskamani said. “And we are living in a world where peaceful protesters are arrested at the Capitol and elsewhere for throwing panties … (when) they should be looking into violence intervention programs.”

Several people protesting a bill to ban transgender care during the regular session were arrested in June for tossing panties from the House balcony to the floor below while the bill was being debated.

Last session, the Capitol police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement made a record number of arrests of protesters after they blocked the governor’s office at the Capitol and another group outside Tallahassee City Hall. Those arrested include former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, now chairperson of the Florida Democratic Party, and Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation.

Other renovations at the Capitol include bulletproofing the front panels on the daises at some of the committee hearing rooms where lawmakers sit, said Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.

“If someone came in with a gun, we’d get on the floor, protected by that bulletproof panel,” she said.

A real problem for the upcoming committee hearings in October is a lack of clarity on whether anyone can bring a gun to the Capitol now that they don’t need a concealed weapons permit, Stewart said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement currently prohibits bringing firearms into the Capitol, with the exception of people with concealed carry permits. But they are still not permitted to bring guns into committee hearings.

“If we’re not getting a clear message from the FDLE about carrying guns in the Capitol, we will have to send them a letter to clarify that,” Stewart said, adding she would have an aide send a letter out soon.

“I don’t know what good windows are going to be if you can’t control access,” Stewart said. “When you don’t want to take steps to reduce the proliferation of guns, this is the only step you can take for protection.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he wasn’t surprised that other lawmakers were not aware they were voting to pay for bulletproof glass, especially since it probably came up during the often frantic budget negotiations near the end of the session.

Gruters didn’t have a problem with the upgraded windows.

“I’d go with what the professionals said,” Gruters said.

In fact, more professionals are recommending governments, schools, religious institutions and private companies install bulletproof or resistant glass and doors.

Last year, the city of Jacksonville and Duval County hired a consultant, Armoured One of Syracuse, New York, to analyze their need for bulletproofing their buildings.

Going with bulletproof or ballistic glass is much more expensive than tempered glass, according to Fortified Experts and other security websites, from $15 per square foot to as high as $800 per square foot based on material, thickness and other factors.

Ballistiglass charges $200 per square foot and $100 for each installation, said Mike Cernech, chief operating officer for the Parkland-based school security company. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in 2019, Ballistiglass donated bulletproof windows and doors to the school, he said.

With the indisputable rise in gun violence, he said, the inquiries about bulletproof glass are also increasing.

“Gun violence is on the rise, and people need to protect themselves,” he said. “When we drop off our kids at school, we shouldn’t worry about them getting shot and killed.”

The windows replacement is part of a $172 million renovation of the Capitol complex, two parking garages, and adding elevators to Waller Park on the west side of the Capitol to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Part of the renovation included the cutting of many old-growth trees and the installation of artificial turf in some areas.