Includes findings associated with several options; recommends combined Justice Center

The Itasca County Jail Taskforce report for developing a Justice Center in Grand Rapids was released Nov. 5 and presented to the Itasca County Board of Commissioners during their work session Tuesday.

The recommendation of the taskforce is based on the following key decisions: The jail and courts must remain physically connected to avoid the high operational cost of inmate transporting; the long-range master plan should include jail, sheriff’s office and courts to create a justice center; downtown expansion is more expensive due to the high cost of purchasing properties for the new facility.

Two main ideas have been proposed - build on the current site downtown Grand Rapids adjacent to the Courthouse or at a remote site located south of the Airport and east of Airport Road on 13.7 acres of undeveloped property owned by the city of Grand Rapids.

The County Board will decide how to move forward using the taskforce’s report to address the failing jail facility. The first request for board action will come before commissioners during a regular meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 12, when they will be asked to consider purchasing the remote property which has an Estimated Market Value (EMV) of $129,000.

A group consisting of both county staff and public members, the taskforce was established more than a year ago in response to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) “sunset” letter, dated April 25, 2018, which provided a date for which the jail facility will no longer be authorized to incarcerate people due to building deficiencies.

The DOC found that the current jail facility “lacks adequate housing space to ensure proper separation of inmates,” as well as “significant problems with plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.” The letter also states a lack of proper staffing numbers.

“All of these deficiencies negatively impact the safety and security of the facility, the staff, daily operations and the citizens of Itasca County,” wrote Ron Solheid, DOC Deputy Commissioner.

The DOC provided a time frame for local officials to determine needs and develop a plan to address those needs whether that is to replace the facility and construct a new facility or make appropriate repairs and renovations. The state set the sunset date for the Itasca County Jail as Sept. 1, 2021.

The state’s letter prompted detailed research and discussions to determine the next course of action. The taskforce convened monthly and members have gathered the most-asked questions by the public then researched, discussed and finalized answers to those questions.

One of the top inquiries of the public is whether the county fully considered expanding the existing jail vertically. The taskforce’s response states, “yes, we did and by doing so still ran way short of the needed beds for Special Management, etc.” The current jail facility has a capacity of 98 beds, including the newest portion of the facility, the Annex, which was added in 1998. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Itasca County’s current needs are 180 to 200 beds.

Included within the report are additional findings regarding a vertical expansion as well as other potential options, analysis and preliminary estimated costs. The following is an outline of that information as detailed in the report:

ANNEX OPTION & REMODELING CURRENT MAIN JAIL:

• The beams and footings are not up to current code so the Annex could only go up one additional floor.

• One additional level would cost about $12 million and provide approximately 50 additional beds.

• The DOC would still close the current main jail resulting in a loss of 61 beds and the county would be in the same predicament.

• The current square footage in the main jail does not have recreation, programming or nursing areas required by DOC if remodeled. To accommodate these spaces would reduce the number of beds from 61 to 30. Also the kitchen space would not handle the increased numbers and there is no additional space for laundry so both of these would need to be added into the plan.

• This would put the remodeled facility and addition to the Annex at around 120 beds which means the county would still be shipping inmates to be housed out.

BUILDING NORTH OF THE CURRENT JAIL

• Buying the block north would cost a minimum of $1.1 million EMV.

• Demo of current buildings is uncertain.

• This would result in land-locking the facility with no options for future expansion.

• No outside fire evacuation possibilities.

•Transport to the current building via a secure tunnel would cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

• Lost tax revenue from the current properties would be $41,174 (based on taxes paid in 2018).

• The current parking area east of the courthouse is inadequate at this time and building north would only compound the parking issue. Additional parking would be required by code. If we looked at purchasing another block for parking this would add additional money and lost tax revenue. The block east of the potential site would be another $1 million at EMV and a loss of $27,933 in taxes. The block west of the potential site would be $1.1 million at EMV with a loss of $32,263 in taxes.

• A different option presented was to shave off the sheriff’s department, Annex and main jail and build all new on that footprint. There is a square footage limitation but the biggest thing to consider is housing of current inmates. All inmates would need to be housed out when demolition starts. This would cost the county about $2.4 million a year as 120 inmates at $55 a day equals $6,600 a day or $198,000 a month. And the project is expected to take 24 months minimum to complete.

• This also does not include where to stage them everyday for court in Itasca or even where to complete the booking process. Nor does it consider the cost of transporting them to other counties or a contingency if there are no beds available to rent in other counties.

GREENSITE

• Airport Road property of 13.7 acres at $129,000 EMV currently has a loss of tax revenue of $1,960 a year. (The property north of the site is 15.1 acres with EMV of $241,000; property south of the site is 10 acres with EMV of $196,300.)

• Property is currently zoned as industrial so no variance is required.

• City water and sewer is at the street and 440 power to the site.

• There are outside fire evacuation possibilities with the site.

STANDALONE JAIL

• A jail constructed off-site from courts would require more staff for transporting inmates and required staffing at the old facility to be used as a holding facility.

• Plumbing and HVAC upgrades as well as security electronics upgrades would all need to be made to the old facility.

• The new designs of jails have focused on safety and efficiency. The current jail is one staff to 25 inmates. The new facility will be one to 40 and one to 60 depending on the classification level of the pod. The focus in the new designs is one third less inmate escort during movements. This won’t be achieved in the new facility if the inmates are needed to be escorted to and watched in the intake area until transported off-site or when they return. The efficiency of less staff would be negated.

• There could be liability issues in the event of an accident or a medical incident during transport to and from the new facility.

COURTS ISSUES CURRENTLY

•There will be remodel costs to make one entrance and multiple sheriff’s deputies will need to be hired to achieve the single entrance screening.

Currently there are only three courtrooms while Itasca is rated at 3.8 judges. Four court rooms would make all calendars smaller and better serve the public and justice system.

• Current courtroom sizes and seating is well below the current need. This includes inside the courtrooms, jury rooms and jury meeting areas.

• There are no private meeting areas for attorneys and clients.

• There is no secure holding area for inmates.

• There is no secure transport route for inmates.

• Parking is lacking when there is a jury trial.

• District Court of Minnesota Ninth Judicial District Court judges outlined their concerns and recommendations in a letter (included with the report) to the county commissioners to invest in its judicial system infrastructure to ensure the citizens the right to be safe and secure while conducting court business.

CONSOLIDATED COUNTY SPACE

• There have been talks about relocating the IRC offices from the current building to the courthouse if the justice center is built.

• Total combined square footage of the probation department building, sheriff’s office, Annex, courts and county attorney office is 45,370, not including the kitchen and cafeteria or main jail.

• The IRC building is 47,811 square feet and the Health and Human Services Division uses around 35,000 as the school district uses the remaining.

• There would be more than enough space to transition the IRC offices to the courthouse if the decision is made to consolidate.

• The value of the IRC building is $5,825,000 (2018 actual cash value).

FUNDING OPTIONS

• An option would be to allow voters to decide what they would like to do.

• In 2016, Clay County put both options on their ballot and 70% of voters approved a sales tax to fund their new law enforcement center.

COST ESTIMATES (preliminary conceptual budgets)

• Downtown site, jail only - $41,846,578.47

• Downtown site, jail/law enforcement center/courts - $70,590,296.81

• Remote site, jail only - $38,501,818.47

• Remote site, jail/law enforcement center/courts - $66,995,536.81

The taskforce report and conceptual drawings were compiled with assistance from Klein McCarthy Architects, of Minneapolis, a firm that specializes in justice architecture and public facility design.

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