The Ward County Commission and space needs committee got its first look at updated plans for a new office building and jail expansion during a special space needs meeting Thursday.
Don Davison, an architect with JLG Architects, introduced Mark Ludgatis, an architect with BWBR in St. Paul, Minn., who specializes in jail design and is helping with planning the expansion of Ward County Jail.
Davison said one decision they were able to come to in meeting with the Ward County Sheriff's Department was that the administration office would be placed in the new addition to the jail instead of being moved to the courthouse. Because of a steep grade where the jail expansion would go, the new office would probably be a two-story atrium with a split-level entry. This move would also keep prisoners from walking through the administrative area when they are transported to court.
"We haven't done any kind of layouts, we haven't done any kind of space planning with the sheriff," Ludgatis said. "This is just a concept to show that that would be an arrangement that would actually work out very well for the sheriff's department."
Ludgatis said in touring the jail, it was obvious to him the space was far too small for current needs, let alone needs in the future.
"It's an outdated building. Jail design has changed a lot in the last several years," Ludgatis said. "It's a building that they (sheriff's department personnel) know well. It's got some challenges and they're doing an amazing job of operating the facility safely and securely with the space constraints that they have."
Ludgatis mentioned that during one of his conversations with Sheriff Steve Kukowski, it was said at one point in the past week they had 120 prisoners, while only 104 beds are available in cells that are all double-bunked. He said finding space for the overflow prisoners is obviously a challenge.
Another challenge the jail presents is vertically, where three floors of prisoners are stacked between the indoor recreation area in the basement level and the outdoor recreation area on the roof.
"All the inmates are moving up and down in the elevator system in order to access those inmate functions," Ludgatis said. "That's a major challenge from a security standpoint, from a safety standpoint."
He said the expansion to the north side of the jail would go right to the curb of Third Avenue Northeast, which would be vacated. This limited space to work with also presented a challenge, as they tried to fit in as many cells as possible while staying within the footprint of the expansion.
Ludgatis said in the current preliminary stage, the expansion would add 14 cells to each of the three floors, for a total of 42 new cells in addition to the 52 already in the jail. This could almost double the capacity depending on how many were double-bunked.
"There are corrections standards that are not regulations to be followed, but more guidelines that are recommended to be followed that say 10 percent of your overall cells should be single-bunk versus double-bunk," Ludgatis said. "But often, in times like this when there's overcapacity, everything is double-bunked."
To improve the safety, security and efficiency of the jail cells, day rooms could be placed between the old cells and new cells to form recreation spaces for prisoners that could be classified as both indoor and outdoor areas because of operable windows that could be opened to let in fresh air. This would keep prisoners on the same floor as their cells when they are let out for recreation and would limit the need to transport them vertically throughout the building to the old recreation areas.
"So in inclement weather, cold weather, those windows are closed. It's an indoor recreation space and you're not required to provide outdoor recreation for your inmates," Ludgatis said. "If it's nice out, say about 50 degrees, you open the windows up and it meets the requirements for outdoor recreation, as well. So you can kind of kill two birds with one stone."
Another change that could take place is going to a video visitation system instead of the current non-contact system. As it stands, if a female inmate has a visitor, she must wait until all male inmates have left the visitation area before she can go in. The video system would alleviate this problem and make visitation much more efficient.
As for the new office building, Davison said there is still quite a bit of planning to be done, but they have a good outline of what would go where. His estimate of its size is about 65,000 square feet.
Davison's current plan would split Ward County Social Services over two different floors because that department has two separate areas that don't need to be on the same floor.
The eligibility workers in social services have the most foot traffic, so they would be placed on the first floor. This floor would also house emergency operations, the extension office, emergency management and veteran services.
The second floor would have the auditor and related departments, recorder, inspections, superintendent and commissioners chambers.
The third floor would be pretty much dedicated to the rest of the social services department.
The basement floor would mostly be comprised of utilities and storage space.
Davison then showed a computer rendering of what the building might look like from the outside. The main entrance would face west onto Third Street Southeast, the same as the main courthouse entrance, and there would be a skyway between the two buildings.
"What we're trying to accomplish is two things. We're trying to, number one, make a respectful transition between the two buildings with that skyway, and we're planning on using quite a bit of glass to make that transition," Davison said. "The new structure would be some precast and some glass. Right now this is all kind of gray tones, but what I think we would try to do is try to match some of the materials that are on the courthouse. But to try to replicate the design of the courthouse I think would be a mistake. I think we're better off just trying to make the two buildings compatible and yet different, and look like they belong."
Davison noted it is a rough rendering and by no means final. In addition to glass in the skyway, there is also non-transparent glass around the building near the top. Davison said it makes the building look more aesthetically pleasing. The glass, which would not let in any light and wouldn't be at eye level in any event, is just as energy efficient as a regular wall because of insulation, and the cost difference between the glass and a regular wall would be small.
Because of the logistical difficulties and safety concerns of renovating a working jail, the question of making the new building the jail and renovating the old jail into office space was raised. Ludgatis said jails are incredibly difficult buildings to renovate into anything else. He noted their extremely thick construction makes taking out walls and making the area suitable for regular office space a difficult, and expensive, proposition at best. While that idea had been given some thought, he said ultimately doing renovations on the jail was probably the less difficult and expensive thing to do.
Commissioner John Fjeldahl was worried about public perception regarding the use of glass in the building. He feared the public might think the glass was a frivolous use of money, which is one of the things that scuttled the last building expansion plan years ago, when detractors said the new building looked like a Taj Mahal.
A committee member said the concern was valid, but noted he didn't want the building to look like a drab gray slab, either.
"I think people like to see nice buildings, but they don't want money wasted. This is tax money," committee member Orlin Backes added. "It takes care of the needs and to me it's a modern building, not a flashy building."
Several committee members also stressed the importance of getting this information out to the public, as early voting is set to begin. Commissioner John Fjeldahl also said they need to keep making the public aware of the $10 million earmarked for roads, as well, because the roads are something everyone traveling through the county benefits from.
A date for the next special needs meeting was not immediately set.