The Kewaunee County Public Safety Facility Study Committee is expected to finalize its recommendations for Phase 2 of its work when it meets Monday (July 8).
Consulting firm Venture Architects has recommended that the county begin planning for a new Law Enforcement Center that would replace the county’s antiquated jail and consolidate the Sheriff’s Department offices, 911 communications and the sheriff’s garage at one site.
The existing jail was built in 1968, and all of its systems and materials are old and outdated, John Cain of Venture Architects told the County Board in his presentation at the June meeting.
“The building is just tired, it’s out of date, it’s out of use,” Cain said. “Everything is falling apart … We’ve got a number of issues simply because of the age of the building.”
The issues include leaks in the roof – including one that affects the 911 dispatch room packed with electronic equipment – security locks that are so obsolete that replacement parts need to be machined by hand, and an HVAC system that doesn’t produce enough heat in the winter and doesn’t cool sufficiently in the summer, Cain said.
Because of its linear design, jail officers have blind spots where they can’t monitor inmates directly as they can in modern pod designs, he said.
The building was designed to hold 22 inmates, while the average jail population is now around 40. That means housing close to half of them in other counties, including all of the female inmates, Cain noted.
Sheriff’s Department facilities are spread over 1.33 miles: Department offices are in the basement of the county courthouse, the jail and 911 center are next door in the Public Safety Building, and a building on the other side of the Kewaunee River is used to house the fleet, the armory, evidence storage, impound and training facilities.
The Venture team reviewed seven alternatives in all before reaching its recommendation, including simply demolishing the jail, relocating the 911 center and housing inmates in surrounding counties’ jails. That is potentially one of the least expensive alternatives but leaves the county at the mercy of the other counties’ rental fees, Cain said.
Remodeling the existing building to bring it up to code was not seriously considered.
“We would not do anything to change the number of beds or the design or anything like that, just simply bring the building up to code,” Cain said. “I think the committee made a wise decision that said that makes no sense because we need more beds, so why would we put more money into a building that’s, what, 51 years old?”
Options that included building a new jail and law enforcement center adjacent to the courthouse would have space limitations, and all inmates would have to be housed out-of-county during construction, he said, leading Venture to conclude that building a new center at a different site to be determined is the most logical idea.
The proposal is for an 82-bed jail to account for future growth and allow for separate housing of female and juvenile inmates.
The next step in the process would be for the County Board to approve Venture’s final Phase 1 report and consider moving into Phase 2, where operational and architectural considerations would be discussed in great detail, Can said.
The board does not plan to meet in July, so its next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Supervisor Tom Cretney asked what the facility’s cost per bed would be, and Cain said it’s a little premature to talk about that.
“I apologize,” he said. “What happens when we talk about dollars is that’s the only number you’ll ever remember. Give us a couple of months and we’ll be able to answer all your questions about costs. I apologize; I’m not trying to put you off.”
County Board Chairman Robert Weidner said county officials are considering whether to produce a video that would “explain to the public what the deficiencies are of this jail, and why or if we need a new jail, and some of the key questions that you know you’ll get in public – why we need it, how much it costs, and so forth.”
The video would be offered to local public access TV stations and nonprofit groups for general public viewing and information, he said.
“We want this to be sort of an all-inclusive video that gives everybody a good picture of the status of the jail right now,” Weidner said.
Top photo: The Kewaunee County Public Safety Facility Study Committee tours the county jail in March. (Kewaunee County Comet file photo)