(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
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.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
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.