SUPERIOR — A combination of frugal spending, planning for the future, and money from the American Rescue Plan Act will allow Douglas County to undertake more than $4.4 million in capital projects this year, but remodeling the county jail will not be among them.
Projects include equipment and building improvements for the highway department, upgrades to Douglas County campgrounds and parks, funding for the county’s groundwater testing program, repairs to the Government Center and Douglas County Courthouse, emergency communications improvements and upgrades to the county’s geographic coordinate system.
About $1.8 million of the projects are eligible for funding with ARPA funds, said administrator Ann Doucette. The money previously designated to fund restroom and shower improvements at Lucius Woods County Park was freed up because the projects are eligible for federal funding.
A proposal to remodel the second floor of the Douglas County Jail did not receive approval. The project would add three maximum security holding cells and six beds to the 233-bed facility.
“I would like to see the second-floor jail remodel omitted because I don’t think there’s a need for it,” Supervisor Rosemary Lear said of the $502,564 project.
In the 20 years the jail has been operational, she said the county hasn’t needed the additional maximum security space.
“The other point is that if there is a prisoner that’s that dangerous, we have a right to refuse them,” Lear said.
“It seems like an awful lot of money to spend for $100 a day for a bed,” said chief deputy Jerry Moe, who said he was opposed to the project.
Moe said the area where the remodeling would take place was originally designated as access to a secure courtroom the county never built in the Government Center.
The secure courtroom was dropped to stay within the $44 million project costs when the Government Center was built in the early 2000s. While it saved the county about $650,000 to leave the space unfinished in 2003, four years later the cost of building the secure courtroom adjacent to the jail rose to about $1.6 million and was never pursued. In 2009, the space was converted to offices for the state’s public defenders, probation and parole officers in Douglas County, and a conference room.
Jail Capt. Tyler Edwards said the jail project would give the county additional space for maximum security prisoners because the jail only has two maximum cells currently. He said it would also provide additional space to quarantine prisoners who test positive for COVID-19 or some other outbreak.
“We’ve already spent … $67,000 on this project already,” Edwards said.
The money went to the cost of designing the remodeled space. He said the only reason the jail was seeking additional funding for the project was because the bid came back at twice the cost originally anticipated.
Douglas County set aside $227,500 for the project in 2021.
“The census on the jail is like 140 inmates,” Lear said. “You have room for 233. Wouldn’t there be room already that could be set aside for this with minor changes to make it secure?”
Edwards said most areas of the jail are not designed for maximum security inmates, and alterations to make them secure would still require remodeling.
County board Chair Mark Liebaert asked if the remodeling would impact the county’s original plan if officials decided to build the secure courtroom adjacent to the jail.
Edwards said the project was designed so it could be converted to serve as a gateway to the secure courtroom.
“If our department manager says they need it — they live it every day — since he says he needs it, I think we should move forward with it,” Supervisor Sue Hendrickson said.
During a joint meeting of the executive and administration committees, the project was removed from the capital projects approved Thursday, June 2. Hendrickson was the only committee member to vote in favor of funding the jail project.
The 2021 and 2022 allocations for the project will be held in reserve, less the $67,304 already spent, Doucette said.
All remaining capital projects were approved.
The Douglas County Board will consider the projects June 16.
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