(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Loren Anderson of Treanor Architects P.A., Topeka, Kansas, said that a jail just has to be designed to keep staff at the safest level. "Keep it simple and efficient," Anderson told commissioners.
Treanor (pronounced "Trainer") is the second architectural firm that has approached commissioners about performing a study to help commissioners decide how the county wants to take care of its prisoners.
Commissioner Steve Downer asked Anderson and Jay Zimmerschied to develop price tags for the options that commissioners are researching:
* Building a new jail, either as an extension to the sheriff's office and/or the courthouse, or on a site separate from the courthouse;
* Renovating the City of McCook's 96-hour holding cells and public safety center into a full-fledged jail;
* Or using the city's holding cells for short-term incarceration and continuing to transport long-term incarceration prisoners to neighboring county jail facilities.
Sheriff Gene Mahon told commissioners, Anderson and Zimmerschied that the county has anywhere from six to 18 prisoners every day. The county contracts for bed space with three jails and uses five, Mahon said, two of which are most generally used for high-risk prisoners and whose charges are over-and-above what is budgeted.
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt has said in the past that reopening and updating the county's own jail cells, located in the sheriff's office and closed in 1983 because of failure to meet state jail standards, is probably not a viable option. Two field representatives of the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Jail Standards Division, toured the county jail facility on Feb. 7. Neither felt the jail can be updated to meet current jail standards.
"We've gotta show the public we've researched all the options," he said.
Anderson said that staffing a jail is "a tremendous expense, worse than building costs." He recommends staffing with no more people than is absolutely necessary. "Our staff is very attentive to keeping staffing as minimal as is safe," he said. "But, too small and liability is increased."
He continued, "Staffing is primary in our minds during design."
Anderson said that under the heading of "Lessons Learned," Treanor architects treat jails as "100-year projects" that need to be designed with expansion in mind and never landlocked. However, jails that are built adjacent to historic buildings can be designed with exterior character and finishes that are sensitive to what is already there, Zimmerschied said.
Zimmerschied also told commissioners, "Anything you build today will never be cheaper," explaining that the construction environment -- materials and labor -- is conducive to getting a quality building at a low price.
McNutt said commissioners will need strong public support for whatever the county decides to do, that they need a study of options and cost figures before moving forward much further. "We don't want people to think we're building a jail," he said. "But, the bottom line is, we need to know costs. Is it (a jail) worth pursuing for this county? If some crazy number comes up, we can't do it. We can't even go there."
McNutt asked whether the 40-bed jail proposed in 2006 could be downsized to 24 beds.
Dale Dueland of McCook, speaking as a member of the public, asked whether neighboring jails would be forced to close if Red Willow County does not send them its prisoners, and whether a Red Willow County jail should be treated as a "regional jail" that could house prisoners from other counties.
Sheriff Gene Mahon said he doesn't think neighboring counties' jails would be forced to close, although he said he can envision them making use of a jail that Red Willow County might build. He encouraged commissioners to keep in mind the possibility of building for some use by other jails. "Keep that in mind, to a degree," Mahon said.
Dueland also asked about building a jail onto the courthouse, whether a design could be built to fit in with the existing neighborhood. Zimmerschied said it's possible that a design can complement the existing courthouse, using accents similar to the courthouse's stone, helping to "retain the historical character of the courthouse."
McNutt said architects will have to be conscious of the fact that the courthouse is near churches, a school and residential areas. Dueland added, "The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house (the Jan and Van Korell house at 602 Norris) is hugely significant, and challenging."
McNutt said, "Whatever's done, it needs to be done in an appropriate manner."
McNutt asked Anderson and Zimmerschied to report to commissioners their fee to do a jail study for the county, reusing and updating a needs assessment performed for the bond issue in 2006.