Workers are building a $750,000 anti-terrorism fence meant to help secure the hospital's perimeter and to prevent a vehicle, potentially loaded with explosives, from crashing into buildings.
The rationale is that terrorists won't go after military targets, which are hard to hit, said the VA's Chief Engineer Robert Cornell, but will instead aim for places such as hospitals with the goal of disrupting and disheartening the public.
“If you look at Sept. 11, you realize that it's about attacking civilians and going after targets like a pediatrics hospital,” Cornell said. “We need to harden some of these ‘break-your-heart' targets.”
Some doubt it
Some nearby residents, though, say they doubt Asheville would ever be attacked and question the use of taxpayer money to secure the hospital at a time of federal deficits.
“We had no idea what it was,” said Laura Williams, whose house backs up to the VA.
Williams, 31, is from New York City, but was living and working in Washington, near the Pentagon, at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“In Asheville? It just seems a little excessive to me,” she said.
The idea of beefing up VA security first came after the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building. But the move to secure all federal facilities accelerated after Sept. 11 and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The construction comes five years after a 2004 report commissioned by Homeland Security said the “aged six-foot perimeter fence should be replaced with an eight-foot anti-ram wrought iron fence.”
The upgrades are not part of $2 million in stimulus projects happening at the VA.
The hospital completed its first phase of security upgrades in 2007, with a new door-locking system and barricades around containers of liquid oxygen, natural gas and other vulnerable spots, Cornell said. Those changes cost more than $500,000.
The second phase includes a fence reinforced with concrete footers and thick cable of the kind used in interstate medians.
In addition to security, the barrier is meant to look better than the current rusting chain-link fence, VA engineers said.
Workers are putting brick facades around the posts and black coated aluminum rails that look like wrought iron. The idea was to mimic elements of the historical 1928 fence.
Cornell said facilities such as the VA are “between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to spending money on security. Officials are criticized for the cost, “but when something happens, the first question is, ‘Why didn't the government think about this?'”