The future of a new Kewaunee County jail is apparently in County Board Chairman Dan Olson’s hands after a lengthy discussion at the board’s Executive Committee meeting Monday (July 6).
After a discussion of where the county’s study should go next, now that an ad hoc Public Safety Facility Committee has made its recommendation, Olson said he would have something to say about that when the full board meets.
The committee studying what to do about the existing, late 1960s-era jail in March accepted “Option 7” from a consultant’s Phase II report, which involves building a new law enforcement center with a 52-cell jail, 911 center and Sheriff’s Department offices and facilities on a new site, probably a farm field adjacent to the county Administration Center that the county purchased last year.
The County Board is hesitating because the estimated cost of the project is $30-35 million. Olson has appointed a successor Jail Study Committee, which contains many of the same members as the one appointed by former board chairman Bob Weidner, but the panel has not met since the state’s “Safer at Home” order went into effect in late March.
The next phase of the study involves asking the consultant, Venture Architects, to draw up schematic drawings of the project. County Administrator Scott Feldt said those drawings would cost around a quarter-million dollars.
“That’s a significant expenditure of taxpayer dollars without being pretty confident of what we want to go forward with,” Olson said.
Sheriff Matt Joski said “options within Option 7” remain, including building one step at a time – for example, building the much-needed jail and waiting a few years to build new headquarters for the Sheriff’s Department, which is currently located in the basement of the Kewaunee County Courthouse.
“In 2020 we don’t have the resources to move forward with a $35 million project, but we know we have to move forward,” Joski said.
He added that it would make more sense to do each step of the process “correctly” rather than try to do it all at once at a drastically reduced cost, cutting costs along the way.
“I hate to try to fit the whole enchilada into a project and have to cut around the corners so bad that all of it is ineffective,” Joski said.
Supervisor Chuck Wagner, who was on the board two decades ago when a previous effort to replace the jail was stopped by a recall election, said having the public on board is crucial, especially if it comes to a referendum.
“If the public is not very, very, very well-informed and understand the entire project, I don’t believe a referendum has any chance of passing,” Wagner said. He suggested a series of informational meetings to explain the final project in detail.
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PHOTO: The July 6 meeting of the Kewaunee County Executive Committee can be viewed on the county’s YouTube channel.