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Citizens make pitch to move jail

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dale Dueland, McCook, addresses the Red Willow County Commissioners Monday, while county clerk Pauletta Gerver, left, and commissioner Steve Downer listen.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
McCOOK, Nebraska -- In February, the three Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to build a new 24-bed county jail and sheriff's office, and to build the facility next to the courthouse in the 500 block of Norris Avenue.

At their meeting Monday morning, commissioners listened to three McCook residents determined that the new law enforcement center won't be built in what they call "the historic Norris Avenue corridor."

The letter that commissioners signed Monday to be mailed to the Nebraska jail standards board indicates that the county plans to proceed with a new jail -- a 24-bed adult Type III detention facility -- with construction to begin in September 2012 and an estimated finish date in October 2013. The letter doesn't indicate where the jail will be built.

Jan Korell, owner with her husband, Van, of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home at 602 Norris Avenue in McCook, Nebraska, addresses those at the Red Willow County commissioners' meeting Monday morning. Korell and others spoke in favor of locating the county's new jail somewhere other than across the street south of the Korell home on Norris Avenue. Listening to Korell were, from the left, clerk of the district court Beverly Dodge, Todd Cappel, Sheriff Gene Mahon, Diana Wilkinson, Deputy Gerry Hunter and commissioners Vesta Dack and Earl McNutt.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Commissioner Vesta Dack said that the commissioners' ultimate concern throughout the jail study process has been safety -- that of the officers, the public, the prisoners. "It always comes back to safety," Dack said, adding that commissioners, the county's jail study committee and the professional jail consultants all agreed that locating the law enforcement center next door to the courthouse would result in the least amount of transportation of prisoners, the point at which escape risk is the highest.

Mitch Lyster of McCook, a member of the jail study committee, agreed, saying that safety was a major concern of committee members, that building the jail close to the courthouse would eliminate "driving back and forth" with prisoners.

Lyster addressed a major concern of those coming before commissioners Monday morning. "I do not think this jail on this site will be a detriment to the neighborhood. It's a fine-looking facility."

Jan Korell, who with her husband, Van, owns the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home at 602 Norris Avenue, stressed to commissioners, "This is not about me owning that house," but about the community's image and its heritage.

Korell complained that those who break the law -- those who make a choice not to follow the law, she said -- "will have a very nice place on our most important street in town."

She continued, "The placement of the jail is wrong ... not on this historic street."

Korell also spoke out for "a segment of society" needing housing, as the county has eliminated one apartment house with five apartments, and is in the process of eliminating two more apartment houses with seven apartments. "There's no where to put them," she said of the renters.

Korell said that if commissioners continue with their plan to raze the structures north of the courthouse, the lots can still be turned into a park.

Gene O. Morris of McCook commended commissioners for their decision to build a jail, a decision that needed to be made for years, he said. He also said he sees the jail as an economic development and job creation opportunity for the community.

But, he said, he agrees with Korell that the place for a jail is not on the lots north of the courthouse on Norris Avenue.

Morris said it is very rare that jails are "next door to downtown," and that in recent history, such facilities have been placed on the edges of towns, often on the approach to a town to show travelers a town's commitment to law enforcement.

Dale Dueland also said he supports the jail, "but not next to the courthouse." He offered four alternate site possibilities:

Dueland's top choice is a privately-owned tract of land on an approach to McCook that will be auctioned off this spring. There are no structures on the property, it is in the primary growth area of the community and it is served by city water and sewer, he said. Dueland declined to publicly reveal the owners' names, but gave auction information to the commissioners.

The Gazette will not release the owners' name nor the location of the land either, to allow commissioners to discuss a purchase of property in closed session if that is their decision. State law allows the acquisition of land to be discussed in closed session.

Dueland's second option is on the west edge of the Red Willow County fairgrounds. It is already owned by the county, he said, and is served by city water and sewer.

However, fair board member Don Klein told commissioners later Monday morning that the fair board has plans for that land. Klein said that Red Willow County fair board members feel very fortunate that their fairgrounds are not land-locked, allowing for expansion and new ideas.

Dueland's third possibility is the property in the 800 block of West Q currently used by McCook Public Schools for its bus barn and bus parking. The schools district plans to move its buses to the former National Guard armory that has been purchased and renovated into classrooms. The basement -- former tank bays -- will be used for bus parking.

The fourth possibility, Dueland said, is to build a new jail on the land on which the current City of McCook police department and fire station sits.

Commission chairman Earl McNutt said "how quickly we forget" that in 2005-2006 the county's primary site for a jail -- then to be built jointly with a city police department and fire station -- was at the former West Ward school location.

At that time, jail consultants, the county's jail committee and commissioners also discussed the former Hinky Dinky grocery store lot northwest of West Ward; the location of Charley's, a block north and across the street from West Ward; the school district's bus barn on West Q; land next to the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp on North Highway 83; and the land on North Highway 83 proposed as a site for a truck stop.

"And we had a huge amount of dissension from the fair board," when fairgrounds property was suggested, McNutt said.

Last year, again studying the need for a county jail, consultants and jail committee members discussed six options:

* Continue to rent jail bed space and transport prisoners.

* Build a new jail connected to the north side of the courthouse and/or the sheriff's office in the 500 block of Norris Avenue in McCook.

* Renovate/expand the county's existing jail in the sheriff's office.

* Renovate the city's existing 96-hour holding cells into a fully-operational jail.

* Construct a new jail on a new location.

* Develop a new hold-and-transport facility and continuing to transfer long-term prisoners to neighboring counties.

What the committee recommended to commissioners was a less-expensive modification of the second option: Build a new law enforcement center on land north of the courthouse, but not attached to the courthouse. The $5.1 million facility includes sheriff's offices and a jail with 24 jail beds (expandable to 36).

It's not like commissioners rushed to a decision, commissioner Vesta Dack said, always keeping safety and responsible finances as guiding factors.

McNutt said commissioners and jail committee members visited new jails. Lincoln County's new detention center averages 109 prisoners per day and, McNutt said, it has beds for rent. Building Red Willow County's law enforcement center to include additional beds for rental to other agencies was considered in 2005-2006, but not this time around to hold down construction and operational costs. "Looking down the road, renting beds ... was not consistent with Red Willow County's future plans," McNutt said.

McNutt said he still feels strongly that Red Willow County's new law enforcement center will have the appearance of an office building, not a jail. "It will be attractive," he said, "not a distraction."

Dueland said he thinks the private land site is "perfect in every way," and he "can't imagine it wasn't considered."

He said he is also concerned that if McCook grows, the needs for jail beds will grow with it, and the courthouse location can't expand to 50 or 60 jail beds.

If McCook booms to 20,000 people, Dueland said, "we could be looking at needing 50 beds. You couldn't expand this site (the courthouse site) to 50 beds."

McNutt defended commissioners' decision to build north of the courthouse. "The bottom line is, this site, to the bare minimum, minimizes travel."

Dueland said that commissioners have spent, or will spend, close to $400,000 to purchase the lots and raze structures north of the courthouse. He said the private site is two to eight acres and can be purchased for (approximately) $40,000. Figuring "price per acre," he said the courthouse site (not a full acre) is costing $520,000-750,000 per acre, and the private site would cost $5,000-10,000 per acre.

Dueland proposed, "a short walk and a short car drive" from the private site, with security at both ends of the ride. The private site would help McCook preserve its Norris Avenue corridor, he said.

McNutt said these site discussions "needed to have taken place nine months ago."

Dueland said he has been working with commissioners for more than six months, and Morris said he wrote to commissioners in July 2011, encouraging them to find an alternative site.

Dueland said commissioners were "leaving him no other course" than to encourage more public viewpoints on the courthouse site.

Dueland said he would have looked into the situation earlier, but he trusted commissioners and the jail study committee "to look at alternative sites."

Dueland said from an economic viewpoint, "it's not expensive to haul prisoners one to two miles."

Commissioner Steve Downer urged everyone to not lose sight that the sheriff's offices need to be close to the courthouse, not a mile or two away.

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Where has Dueland been the last six years? Dack is right, it's not like the Commissioner's have rushed into this decision or given the community several opportunities to voice their opinions. Building the jail near the existing courthouse is the most cost effective decision. We've all been worried about the cost of things going up, bad economy, etc. then why should we listen to anyone trying to make us spend more just because they don't like the location? They're going to make it aesthetically pleasing and not stick out like a sore thumb. And, it's the most economical way now and for future expenses. Don't cry now if you haven't been involved over the last 6+ years!

-- Posted by Rural Citizen on Tue, Mar 20, 2012, at 1:17 PM

Amen Rural Citizen where were these people when the vote for or against a jail was to decide how the new safety center was to be built. They could of had the jail on west 5th

-- Posted by g-man on Tue, Mar 20, 2012, at 4:25 PM

Rural you are correct, where have they been? Perhaps they thought the current commissioners would yet again stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem ......like the commissioners have been doing for the past 40 years.

If they do not like the location, let them buy the land north of the court house for whatever amount of money the county has already sunk into it. PLUS enough to buy the land that Dueland thinks is such a great site. Let's see them put their money where their mouths are! If north of the courthouse is so repulsive let 'em pay to move the jail to their alternate site, but these people want the taxpayers to sink even more into an alternate site. Money talks around here just as much as anywhere, talk loud enough and I bet the commissioners just might agree to move the site, make them an offer they can't refuse.

Part of the deal would also need to have a small parking lot paved north of the courthouse and the rest made into another park, all paid for by the naysayers! Perhaps to make Mr. Trail happy it could be called Nelson Park. LOL! Perhaps a real name suggestion would be Morrison Park?

G-man I'm not 100% sure but if I remember correctly the vote by the county residents and city residents was over whether to have a new combined facility at the West Q, bus barn location. Too bad the powers to be on that one, all wanted a Taj Mahal, or perhaps it was a jail Mahal, the tax payers saw that for what it was and voted it down.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Tue, Mar 20, 2012, at 10:34 PM

I would like to know why Mr. Dueland, and the others are putting their interpretation of "historical McCook" and preserving it above the safety of our officers and community. The current planned location is the only location that will feasibly remove the most risk and keep the public, the officers and prisioners the safest. I'm afraid Mr. Morris' comment describing jails being in the downtown area as very rare is incorrect. The Commissioners and the Committee all visited communities where the jail was directly in the middle of downtown and the downtown square. I have been to some of these towns myself and have seen the jail. They are not a deterrant to the downtown facade. Let's applaud the Commissioners on their decision to build this facility and their commitment to move forward.

-- Posted by wapiti on Thu, Mar 22, 2012, at 11:04 AM

I don't see what is wrong with the location of the new jail. If it was going to be a bad looking building I could see it. The drawings they are showing doesn't look bad to me. It is also better to be close to courthouse.

-- Posted by porky1949 on Thu, Mar 22, 2012, at 4:36 PM

awww yes see i live here in alliance nebraska which is in box butte co. my husband works at the courthouse and its located in downtown alliance and has been since 1914 and the law enforcement center is attached to the back of the courthouse and nobody has complained its been there since 1979. So whats the deal i belive it should be attached to the courthouse and it will also save on funds for the sherriffs dept. like fuel and gaurds

-- Posted by cheley1129 on Sun, Mar 25, 2012, at 1:17 PM

North Platte, Holdrege and Lexington all have the jails adjacent to the courthouses. So do Harlan County and Hithcock County. That doesn't seem rare in these here parts.

-- Posted by Mickel on Mon, Mar 26, 2012, at 10:00 PM

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