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Jackson County’s Jail Advisory Committee wouldn’t yet recommend a site for the new jail, although the county’s architect and construction consultant think the best spot is the vacant land north of Wal-Mart.

A year ago, the county’s first designers, Shive-Hattery, came up with the same recommendation. However, a $6.95-million bond referendum last August to fund jail construction on that site failed, and county officials went back to the drawing board, touring other county jails and settling on John Hansen of Midwest Construction Consultants and architect Rick Weidner to make another design.

Hansen and Weidner considered cost and construction on six sites, including the Andrew Jackson Care Facility property north of Andrew, the current Jackson County Regional Health Center campus, a connection to the courthouse and two scenarios involving the county’s Penrose building and adjoining property, located near the current jail.

Committee members dismissed all proposals Feb. 27 except for the vacant land and a scenario that would involve buying two properties near the Penrose building, which would remain intact. The committee is expected to recommend a site at its next meeting Tuesday, March 19, at 6 p.m. in the community room in the basement of the courthouse.

Committee member Mike Delaney repeatedly suggested wrapping a jail around the Penrose building and preached caution on rushing into a decision without getting public input.

“I think it’s way too soon to do this,” he said.

Delaney is one of four regional citizen representatives on the jail advisory board. Other members represent various courthouse offices, law enforcement agencies, and the Jackson County Farm Bureau.

Ultimately, the committee is only advisory, and county supervisors Larry McDevitt, Mike Steines and Jack Willey will decide if they want to pursue a second bond referendum for a new jail, and if the county will buy property for a new jail.

With the state jail inspector citing problems with the current jail, the supervisors have said they may schedule a vote for August, which Hansen said would put the project at a “beautiful time” for bid-letting, perhaps in December.

A bond referendum requires 60 percent approval to pass. The previous bond referendum received more than 50 percent voter approval. It did poorly in the far western part of the county and in Bellevue, where voters turned down a proposal for a new elementary school as  well last fall.

The county has poured more than half a million dollars into buying and rehabilitating the Penrose building for county offices, but it would take another expensive renovation to make it suitable for sheriff’s office administration, Hansen said.

“You’ve had N.I.C. [National Institute of Corrections], Shive-Hattery and now Rick and John tell you that property’s not feasible,” said Steve Schroeder, chief sheriff’s deputy and committee chair. “Are you going to keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?”

The vacant land by Wal-Mart comes with a $260,000 price tag, but it has utility hook-ups and would require relatively minimal dirt work, Hansen and Weidner said. Other properties would cost more to prepare for construction and have other marks against them.

The hospital property may not be vacated for years, and a courthouse addition would be severely cramped and require additional property acquisition, they said. The county home property would require septic and well improvements approaching $500,000.

Deputy Sheriff Russ Long and other law enforcement officers have opposed that site because it would be 25 miles round trip from the courthouse.

Fitting a new jail on the Penrose property would require two additional property acquisitions, Hansen and Weidner said. They estimated costs there at roughly $480,000.

Weidner’s plan for a new county jail would cost roughly $6.5 million, which isn’t that different from Shive-Hattery’s. However, Weidner is proposing a larger jail, with 11 classifications (divisions by gender, age, crime type, etc.) and the possibility for more than 50 beds, compared to the 28 beds and six classifications included in the original plans.

“There’s no way you’re going to get down to a 13,000-square-foot site, even if you did 38 beds, unless you’re building it with paper towels,” Hansen said. He said he “would not build” a jail that was too small for the county’s foreseeable needs and lacked room for expansion.