Kewaunee County Board will approve $25.6 million jail proposal or send it to referendum
KEWAUNEE – The Kewaunee County Board will decide at its July 19 meeting if it will approve construction of a proposed county jail and public safety building with an estimated cost of about $25.6 million or send the proposal to a referendum on the November general election.
The board received a presentation on the proposal during its June 14 meeting in Expo Hall at the county fairgrounds in Luxemburg. It covered the long-documented need to replace to current building — built in 1958, it's the oldest and smallest county jail in Wisconsin — and the costs involved.
The bill to county taxpayers would be brought down from the total cost by more than $4.5 million, to $21 million, by applying about $1.65 million from the county's general fund, $700,000 from its debt service fund and $2.4 million in funds tied to the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for COVID-19 pandemic relief.
With those funds applied to the cost, property owners would pay an additional $19.94 per $100,000 of the equalized value of their property over 20 years, or $31.44 on the $157,700 average value of a home in the county. The new jail also would call for an additional 5½ fulltime workers at an estimated cost of $650,000, a figure that would be incorporated into the annual county budget for the Sheriff's Department, which has a budget of $4.27 million for 2022.
For more than six years, the county board and its Public Safety Facility Study and Jail Strategy committees have considered the options to replace the now-54-year-old jail, which is outdated and has maintenance, design, safety and long-term capacity issues.
Annual inspections by the state Department of Corrections have reported code violations in the building's structural integrity, electrical system (which is believed to be the original system), plumbing and roof. The violations were grandfathered because the county was conducting its study for a new facility, but the county would have to address them if it decides not to move ahead.
"It's come to the point in the past two years when you recognize something needs to be done," said Nancy Thelen, who said she's inspected the jail for the Department of Corrections since 2005. "There's a lot of cobble jobs going on with respect to what's going on inside those walls."
The proposed new facility would expand jail capacity from 22 beds — which actually was reduced to 16 last year by the state because an inspection indicated six beds were no longer suitable for housing — to 58. The jail averages 33 inmates a day, and while the sheriff's department does house overflow population in neighboring county jails, the number accepting inmates from elsewhere is limited. Plus, there's added cost, added transportation and logistical issues.
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The new design allows for more rehabilitation programming for inmates and changes the format from a linear model, with cells lined up along a long hallway, to a pod design that has jail staff in a central location with cells arrayed around them for easier observation and safer working conditions. It also would be one-story, which is considered more appropriate than a multistory facility such as the current one. The design allows for a possible expansion of the building to accommodate as many as 30 more beds and offices.
"If I had to wrap up in summary, your jail is a 1958 jail," said Kurt Berner, a cost estimator for government and commercial construction firm The Samuels Group, which worked with Venture Architects on the proposed design. "It's out of code in so many areas."
The proposal would place the new building on 20 acres of county-owned farmland adjacent to its Administration Building on Lincoln Street in Kewaunee, so zoning would not be an issue, county Administrator Scott Feldt said. One of the options previously considered was to build at the site of the current Public Safety Building, but the study found that would still result in a multistory building that would cost as much as or more than building at an open site.
Berner complimented the work of the two study committees. The previous recommended option, presented to the board in June 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to ramp up in the county, carried a projected cost of between $32.1 million and $35.4 million, but the committees studied modern jails in other, similar counties and found potential cost reductions in operations and design, Berner said.
"I would say your committee did its homework," he said.
Officials had said in recent months the proposal was all but certain to head for a countywide referendum this November, but the County Board instead will vote next month to either approve it or send it to a referendum.
Responding to a question from Sup. John Mastalir during his presentation, Berner emphasized that construction and supply costs have risen considerably over the past year, by as much as 25%, and likely won't come down but instead continue to climb in the foreseeable future.
"How confident am I in these numbers? In any other climate, very confident," Berner told the board. "Time is of the essence. The sooner you take the decision to get started, the better off you'll be."
The day after the presentation, Feldt said that was one of two reasons to ask the board to approve the project instead of sending it to referendum. The other is the work the board and study committees put in to pare down the costs as much as possible while being able to offer a facility that meets the county's needs.
"One, I think the county has demonstrated fiscal responsibility, how we tried to put together a project that has minimal effect on taxpayers," Feldt told the Star-News.
"Second, to go to a referendum delays the project, and we know delaying the project will increase the cost. And if the referendum fails, the cost goes up and the need increases even more."
Berner said once the county gives the go-ahead, it will take about 10 months to finalize the design and for construction to start, with the facility ready to be used in 34 to 36 months. If the board approves the proposal next month, construction could start in the spring of 2023.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County Board will approve $25.6 million jail proposal or send it to referendum