County pursues new site for jailThe year ended with a bang Tuesday as the Douglas County Board agreed to pursue negotiations on property for a joint law enforcement center and jail.
By: By Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The year ended with a bang Tuesday as the Douglas County Board agreed to pursue negotiations on property for a joint law enforcement center and jail.
It was a sharply split decision, with no votes from commissioners Bev Bales and Jerry Johnson.
Board Chair John Mingus hopes negotiations will begin shortly after January 1 on the 60-acre parcel in southeast Alexandria. It’s currently divided into three tracts of 10, 20 and 30-acres each and is estimated to cost $1.50 per square foot.
Following the meeting, Mingus said that although the property owners are willing to negotiate on all the property, they would prefer it to be the 10 and 20-acre tracts along with an agreement that the county purchase the remaining 30 acres within a 10-year time period.
“The site that is being looked at is accessible to all parts of the county,” said Commissioner Paul Anderson. “We’re not talking about putting up a building. We’re talking about securing some land at a very reasonable price.”
At the meeting
While meeting discussions remained civil, opinions on where the joint law enforcement center and jail should be built varied greatly.
Commissioner Bales was unhappy with the timing of the information around the holiday weekend and the upcoming board change (commissioner-elect Norm Salto will replace Mingus on January 2). Her motion to indefinitely delay any decision on land negotiations failed 2-3, with her and Johnson voting for it.
“How can we purchase land when we don’t know what will be on it?” she asked.
Mingus disagreed. “We can’t make any decision as to what facility to build until these three men [construction managers and architect] know what kind of ground it will be built on,” he said. “A decision is going to be made one way or another. This has been dragging on for the last three years, going round and round, and we haven’t gotten anywhere.”
Commissioner Anderson added, “It’s time we take the bull by the horns. Do we want to continue using Band-Aid programs as we have in the past or look long-term?”
Commissioner Johnson, on the other hand, wants to continue discussing the jail’s current downtown location, its cost and parking options. “I don’t believe we’ve finished looking at the downtown site and discussing it and getting dollar amounts down,” he said.
Anderson countered and pointed out that they’ve had numbers on the downtown site for some time. “That’s what you’ve been asking for,” he said. “You’ve got them.”
Mingus added that they now have the numbers for building at both a green site and downtown from the architect and construction manager. “We’re getting down to a jail cost that is not bad,” he said. “We’ve always looked in the neighborhood of $17 to $18 million. We’re right in the ballpark.”
He made it clear the cost of a jail is not going to be $50 million, a number presented last year for a much larger facility. “Today, that detention center and law enforcement center has been reduced by about 50 percent,” Mingus said. “Let’s get this $50 million figure out of our heads.”
Steve Sibell, jail administrator, said the least expensive part of the project is securing the site and building. “It’s the operating part that will continue to grow if we make the wrong decision,” he said. “We’re not seeing this large savings that we’ve been led to believe if we stay downtown.”
Mingus pointed out many of the downtown location’s downfalls: limited room for expansion, insufficient parking, likely inability to receive city permits for parking, poor air circulation, fire code violations, climbing construction costs, displacing residents to make room for parking, and cutting down trees, to name a few.
“It’s important to look to the future,” he said. “The [downtown] site will simply not fill future needs. Not building in the future is not an option.”
Johnson questioned whether or not the city of Alexandria would participate in the project.
“At the last meeting, you asked the mayor and city council members if they would guarantee participation, and I believe they said yes,” Mingus told him.
Some public comments
Commissioners weren’t the only ones who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting regarding the two possible locations; several members of the public did as well.
Vern Lorsung, a former county commissioner, is concerned about what building a new jail will do to property taxes. He also believed Mingus shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the issue because he will no longer be on the board after January 1.
“It seems unethical for him to be casting a vote at this time,” Lorsung said. “I don’t think another week is going to make much difference.”
Tom Osterberg, a member of the former jail building committee, told the commissioners they need to look to the future. “Where is the future in the downtown site?” he asked.
He stressed that building vertical – what would have to be done at the downtown location – is more expensive, in addition to adding more employees and higher operating costs.
Bills Riggs, however, disagreed with Osterberg and said the board should take more time to study the two sites. “You have to be able to determine if building on a green site has a future,” he said. “You cannot say that downtown doesn’t work for the future anymore than a green site does.”
Dan Ness, mayor of Alexandria, spoke on behalf of his own personal opinion, not his governmental opinion. “It appears that the hurdles to building onsite [downtown] are insurmountable,” he said. “It’s imperative to select a green site to begin planning the rest of the project.”
And while John Cady of Alexandria agreed that careful planning and looking to the future is necessary, he agreed with Lorsung that the board is changing and Mingus shouldn’t be allowed to vote. “The people of District 2 have spoken…you’re fired,” he said.
Comparing a green site and the downtown site
Douglas County’s construction manager, Contegrity Group, Inc., recently estimated the cost of building a joint law enforcement center and jail at the current downtown location or at a green site.
Here’s what they found:
• Building at the downtown location would cost about $25 million. Site work would cost about $555,000.
• Building on a green site would cost about $27 million, which also includes downtown demolition costs of nearly $1 million. Site work would cost about $639,000.