Public invited to tour old county jail on Wednesday


Michele Abbott, director of Marion County Emergency Manage?ment, demonstrates for participants in a jail tour Monday that the narrow aisles in the catwalks leave little room for officers and other staff members to walk and avoid outstretched arms from within cells. The tours continue today from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The jail is located near the Marion County Courthouse.

The Marion County sheriff?s office conducted jail tours from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and plan more for tonight so the public can better understand why a committee was formed to review the current situation.

?We opened the facility to help people make up their own mind if the jail is or is not satisfactory to them,? said Sheriff Rob Craft.

?The public can see firsthand what works and what doesn?t,? he said.

Members of the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee finalized plans for this week?s tour at their Sept. 22 meeting.

The tours are come-and-go and the public is welcome to take as little or as much time as they want inside the facility.

The idea of a jail tour was considered a high priority by the committee when several said they had no idea how bad it was until they saw it.

?Most people don?t generally tour a jail unless they have a reason to be there,? one member said. ?But people need to see how bad it really is. I think once people walk through the building, they will agree something has to be done.?

In addition to discussing the tours, the committee also heard from two architectural firms.

Treanor Architects of Kansas City, Mo., and HMN Architects of Overland Park, brought plans based on what the committee, sheriff?s office, emergency management and 911 dispatch officials suggested as a floor plan.

Each architectural firm provided a blueprint with 32-bed facility and additional space for the other two offices.

When asked why both architects came with a 32-bed facility, Flynn said they were instructed to make a design based on 26 to 40 beds.

?Both architects wanted to err on the lower side,? he said. ?Twenty-six was too low, but 40 beds was too high, so they came up with 32.?

The size of buildings presented by the architects ranged from about 15,000 to 17,000 square feet at a cost of $170 to $260 a square foot or about $4 million, including architectural fees.

Both building presentations had no frills, only concrete walls and steel panels.

One committee member asked about costs associated with maintaining a new facility.

?The staff is 78 percent of the operating cost,? said Tim Cummins. ?It would take three or four people to handle the new facility.?

The new facility would require about the same size staff currently needed at the old jail.

After the architects made their presentations, Danny Flynn, chairperson, took a poll of the committee.

When the committee meets again, Flynn asked that members come with a recommendation, which will be forwarded to the commissioners.

Although the special-assessment tax is still debated in the attorney general?s office, the committee wanted to move forward.

The jail tour, one member said, would be a good time to find out what the public thinks about a special $10 tax on households to pay for the new facility.

?We need to find out what the voters think,? one member said.

Rather than wait for a protest petition, the committee also agreed the question would go to voters in April 2010.

Town meetings will help voters make an informed decision about the special assessment tax and the jail tours should provide another perspective.

?We need to help the voters understand the condition of the jail by having these tours, by conducting town meetings and explaining the advantage of a special-assessment tax,? one member said.

Most of the committee said transporting prisoners would not be cost effective.

?How do we put a pricetag on the staff?s safety?? a member asked.

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