County finds partner to help plan jail
The Douglas County Criminal Justice Development Committee took a concrete step Monday on its way to building a new jail in Douglas County. The development committee, on a 5 to 4 vote (two voting members were not present), decided to recommend to ...
The Douglas County Criminal Justice Development Committee took a concrete step Monday on its way to building a new jail in Douglas County.
The development committee, on a 5 to 4 vote (two voting members were not present), decided to recommend to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners that the Vetter Johnson Architects firm from Minneapolis be hired to assist the county as it explores options for a new jail.
The development committee is an advisory panel to the commissioners, who have final say over all matters. Commissioners will vote Tuesday, July 6 whether or not to accept the committee's recommendation.
For about the next six months, the consulting firm will help the committee plan for a jail, rather than provide detailed designs of a building.
Once the committee knows more details, including the possible jail location, size and staffing needs, it will again interview architecture firms for the actual design of the jail.
Douglas County's main jail was built in 1978 and has a 25-prisoner capacity. The county also has a jail annex, which, together with the main jail, can house 99 prisoners.
But the county doesn't have room for all its prisoners, so it sends them - along with hundreds of thousands of dollars - to other counties.
A subcommittee of the development committee interviewed six architecture firms from Minnesota and chose the top two. Those two - Vetter Johnson Architects and Klein McCarthy & Co. Architects, both from Minneapolis - then gave a presentation Monday to the main committee.
The committee wanted to see the two firms' planning strategies and voted for Vetter Johnson after the two presentations.
Some people on the development committee were uncomfortable with a 5-to-4 vote and felt the committee should come to a better consensus.
Pope County Sheriff Tom Larson, however, noted that a close vote was probably better than a unanimous vote in that it showed that both architecture firms were capable of handling the project.
Also, if the county board decides it wants more agreement among the development committee, it can direct the members to discuss the matter further.
Klein McCarthy has more experience in justice facilities planning and design, completing more than 75 detention, corrections and court studies and projects at the county, state and federal levels.
Vetter Johnson has less experience, but has completed jail projects similar to what Douglas County is looking for, including the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.
In that jail, there is a control room in the middle of each pod of prisoners, which allows jailers to directly supervise the prisoners and get by with less staff.
"You don't have fights. You don't have conflicts about who is going to watch what TV show," said Lieutenant Bill McKay of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, who has been looking at the possibility of a new jail for more than two years.
During the planning phase, which McKay expects to be complete by the spring of 2005 at the latest, questions about where the jail will be located and the facility's size will be answered.
Cost estimates and funding for a possible jail will also be determined.
The future of detention in Alexandria will be decided in that period, McKay said.
"This is a very crucial part of the project," he said.
The biggest priority is to start looking at possible sites for a new jail, or whether the existing site could be renovated to fit the county's needs.
By the spring of 2005, McKay hopes to be planning an actual jail facility, an intensive process in itself.
"Just about every brick and glass has to be figured out," he said.