Jail project scaled backFifty millions dollars for a criminal justice facility is just too much money.
By: Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Fifty millions dollars for a criminal justice facility is just too much money. That’s what the Douglas County Board of Commissioners said during a jail meeting Tuesday.
The board gave direction to Klein McCarthy & Co. Architects to scale down the project so it’s more in line with what they would like to potentially spend – between $30 and $35 million.
That projection would include only a portion of the facility – either the jail facility with a joint law enforcement center (between the county and the city of Alexandria) or with a courts facility. But not all three.
The facility could be expanded in the future to accommodate offices that aren’t built right away.
Scaling down the project will also include cutting the number of inmate beds from 240 to about 180 as well as reducing the number of lobbies in the facility.
Scott Fettig, project architect with Klein McCarthy, will present those plans, along with the projected costs, at the board’s next jail meeting – September 6 – as well as an option using the downtown pool location.
Although a “green” site for the new criminal justice facility is still very much in the running, the jail’s current location is again being partially reviewed. (It was, however, previously ruled out following a board vote in February.)
Commissioner Bev Bales suggested that the downtown location be looked at again. “We are hearing from the public, ‘What are you going to do with the facility we have?’ ” she said. “We need those answers to give to the public.”
A possible option, Bales said, would be to use the former pool and gymnasium areas as jail locations. Another option could be to expand the current jail facility to the north (it is currently a parking lot).
An expansion north of the existing jail could, however, affect the courthouse, which is on the historical register.
“Those areas were not looked at in Phase II because the downtown site was eliminated in Phase I,” Fettig said.
Jason Murray, site committee member, added that one of the main reasons for choosing a green site in Phase I was because the downtown location limited parking.
“Immediately, not down the road, we would have to buy residential property [to use as parking],” he said.
Commissioner John Mingus also pointed out that the downtown location was eliminated because it was “not forward looking.”
He continued, “With an expansion on this current site, how do we handle the present main jail facility? That can’t stand forever the way it is.”
Commissioner Dan Olson agreed. “Would we be remiss for adding on [to the current facility]?” he asked. “We need to start looking at the future.”
Fettig said that the current facility could be reconstructed in nearly any fashion, whether it is for programs, classes or offices.
He questioned, however, where the next expansion would be if the downtown location does work right now. “Do we go up or into residential? In 10 or 15 years, what is our next plan?” he said. “If you stay here, you should have a long-range plan.”
Bales answered that for about $13 million the county “can do a lot” with the current jail location, including expanding the jail and law enforcement center.
It could cost more than $18 million to expand and remodel the existing jail site if replacement parking and soft costs are figured in, according to the site committee.
Also, in an e-mail to the Echo Press on Wednesday, Bales said that keeping the jail where it is would save the county millions because other offices – courts and county attorney, for example – wouldn’t have to move. “The present jail has worked for 27 years, and doing this just may get us by for another 27,” she wrote in the e-mail.
“This is a sensible thing to do at this time,” she told commissioners Tuesday. “We can then look at this over the next 10 years.”
Fettig said that if the board waits to build a justice center in 10 years, costs could double – to $100 million – based on inflation rates.
“Is $15 to $20 million comfortable to you as a temporary measure to give you planning room?” he asked.
Bales then motioned to look into the downtown location again; Commissioner Jerry Johnson seconded the motion.
Prior to voting, Mingus asked, “What does that do in the future when we have to move anyway? It’s a temporary fix. If we go to a green site with $25 to $30 million, doesn’t that make more sense?”
Following some hesitation by the commissioners, the motion failed 3-2, with Bales and Johnson voting for it.
Following the vote, Fettig told the board that he would draw up a configuration – for free – using the former pool location as possible jail cells. The board has so far spent about $50,000 for studying and planning for a new justice center.
Potential building sites
While the site committee has been reviewing several potential building locations, no site has been selected.
At its last meeting, the board agreed to lower the minimum acreage needed for the project to 25 acres. (It had previously been 50 acres.)
Fettig said at Tuesday’s meeting that he could adequately fit the criminal justice facility onto 25 acres. He did, however, ask, “How much does that let us grow?”