County to push ahead with jail project for Nov. 2008 ballot

The Marion County Commis?sion meeting Nov. 13, pushed ahead with plans that may put a new $7.5 million 75- to 78-bed jail in Marion?s Batt Industrial Park.

The commission plans to place the initiative on the November 2008 general election ballot for a decision by voters.

Commissioners said the project likely would be funded by a combination of sales-tax revenue and a property-tax bond issue.

Commission Chairman Randy Dallke and commissioners Bob Hein and Dan Holub said their first step should be meeting with the City of Marion to confirm whether Marion will donate 6.15 acres in the park for what eventually could become an expanded community corrections center, including court facilities.

Holub said the construction could eventually free up the old jail and the third floor of the courthouse for other uses in a situation where the county continually has to hunt for space.

Commissioners were presented with design choices of the new industrial park facility, or remodeling and expanding the current jail to cover the entire southwest corner of the courthouse grounds.

Tony Rangel, architect and consultant with Law Kingdom Inc. of Wichita, and Dennis Smith, owner of Law Kingdom, estimated the price of the expanded structure on the courthouse grounds at $6.3 million.

The commissioners, Communications Director Michelle Abbott-Becker and Sheriff Lee Becker noted several disadvantages to the courthouse location.

Sheriff Becker said tighter handling areas with inmates at the courthouse area raise security concerns. He questioned the tolerance of the public for seeing buses delivering convicts under ?pay to stay? from other jurisdictions coming through town when at the industrial park they would be delivered from a highway entrance.

Abbott-Becker wondered if dealing with water problems at the old jail could raise the total cost of the project. She said that during the 1993 flood, the jail basement filled with water. She questioned whether that water came up through the ground or from street runoff.

The commissioners also questioned whether the U.S. Depart?ment of the Interior would object to such a large modification of the courthouse grounds because of its listing as a historic structure.

They also noted the overwhelming presence to nearby residential areas of such a large two-story structure.

They suggested Marion?s new library would be overshadowed by the structure. They feared that the location of the Cooperative Grain & Supply elevator could increase fire safety concerns at the jail.

?It would give up future expansion,? Dallke added.

Hein said, ?For the differences in price, I don?t think I would put it at the courthouse. I think most of the public would think, when they see it, that we would be foolish to build it here.?

Becker said he would check on it, but he thought the jail would have to be located within the city limits of Marion because state statute requires it to be in the county seat town.

Rangel said the Marion facility would resemble the new jail in Sumner County.

After seeing that the land is available, the commissioners hope to have a final plan in place during the opening months of 2008 to allow time for public education. All planning would be complete by August for putting the jail on the ballot, they said.

Rangel warned that inflation could greatly affect the price by next fall, especially with rapidly rising oil prices.

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