A committee has proposed a new, two-story jail that would be built just west of the Carroll County Courthouse. In the artist drawing, the addition would be constructed on the west side of the existing building.
A committee has proposed a new, two-story jail that would be built just west of the Carroll County Courthouse. In the artist drawing, the addition would be constructed on the west side of the existing building.

May 15, 2018

A large, two-story jail built adjacent to the Carroll County Courthouse could hurt Carroll in the long term, several people told the Carroll County Board of Supervisors Monday.

A Jail Committee, after about two years of study, has recommended that a 16,800-square-foot, two-story jail be built west of the courthouse, where a parking lot currently stands.

The addition would require a successful public referendum to move forward. Early estimates indicate the jail, planned to serve the county for at least 50 years, could cost about $8.5 million.

The jail would average 8,400 square feet per floor, compared with the current courthouse’s average of 8,954 square feet per floor — although architects estimated the actual floor space the addition takes up could be slightly more than that taken up by the courthouse.

And an addition of that size could hurt commerce in downtown Carroll, some argued, with the space it would take up, the fact that it would remove about 20 parking spaces currently used by downtown shoppers and its potential impact on downtown property values and perceptions.

Thirteen or 14 parking spaces would be recovered but would be available for use only by city and county officials.

However, Carroll County Sheriff Ken Pingrey and several county supervisors countered, building a new jail offsite would involve either regularly transporting prisoners between the jail and courthouse — a security risk — or moving the entire third floor of the courthouse, which includes the courtroom and clerk of court’s office, to the new location as well.

Either option likely comes at more expense to the county — and transporting prisoners back and forth could be dangerous to staff, Supervisor Neil Bock said, referencing Mark Burbridge, a Pottawattamie County deputy shot and killed a year ago by an escaped convict.

“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” Bock said. “I don’t want another Pottawattamie County.”

Pingrey said the potential impact to the downtown spot isn’t a deterrent to him.

“So we lose some parking,” he said. “The safety of my people, and not having to transport prisoners — looking at the big picture of not having to hire additional staff — the convenience of it is worth losing a few parking spots for me.”

The county has been studying the issue since a January 2016 inspection found deficiencies in the current jail.

“The design of the facility is not user friendly, classification is non-existent and creates a safety and security concern,” Iowa Chief Jail Inspector Delbert Longley wrote in his report.

The feedback referenced how prisoners are segregated based on their gender, the nature of their crimes and whether they have been convicted — and the problems can’t wait several years while the county waits to see how jails are used differently in the state, as proposed by some on Monday.

“I’m worried about my staff and my prisoners today, not in five years,” Pingrey said. “We’re at full capacity today, and we’re not even in the summer months yet. I can’t wait five years to see what’ll happen.”

The current jail has a large main cell that holds 10 prisoners.

“You put 10 people in a small area like that, and we have a lot of problems, a lot of inmate-on-inmate assault,” Pingrey later said. “The best I can say is our current facility isn’t safe for inmates or staff.”

For two years, several of the county supervisors and other Jail Committee members have studied the deficiencies of the current jail, visited other Iowa jails, learned more about jail operations in general and discussed possible improvements for the Carroll County facility, most recently with West Des Moines consulting firm Shive-Hattery.

In December, the Board of Supervisors approved paying the firm $32,000 to determine whether the county should renovate its existing jail or build a new one. The firm’s conclusion was that remodeling the current jail isn’t feasible, Pingrey said.

But the committee’s current proposal of building a new jail adjacent to the courthouse in the west parking lot prompted Adam Schweers, owner of Computer Concepts; Barry Bruner, an attorney with Bruner, Bruner and Reinhart and a former Carroll County attorney; Jim Auen, president of Auen Distributing; Carolyn Siemann and LaVern Dirkx, both Carroll City Council members; Ed Smith, CEO and president of St. Anthony Regional Hospital and former Carroll mayor; and several others to attend Monday’s supervisors meeting with their questions.

“Businesses, medical, judiciary, legal, commercial, retail — all of these people have a piece in this action,” Bruner said. “This is a 50-year decision. I myself don’t feel the west attachment is right. But I think the community, the county, even the region is owed further discussion and planning. We’re in a unique situation here in Carroll County — we’re not just building a jail. We’re talking about setting a tone for the atmosphere of this commercial district that we’ve had for 150 years here in Carroll County. … We’re setting a tone I don’t think is right.”

Many of the concerns centered on how the addition would affect downtown commerce in Carroll.

“I have a pretty big dog in the fight as to how the downtown looks and what we want it to look like in the future,” Schweers said.

Siemann, echoing some of Schweers’ and Bruner’s concerns, asked the supervisors to hold off on making a decision until the future economic development implications to Carroll are more clear.

“The county is only as strong as its cities and towns,” she said. “We all know what a struggle it is for rural Iowa, the towns and cities, to remain viable. We’re struggling to get a workforce, to keep storefronts full; we’re struggling to keep our schools full. … I’d just like to ask you to table this so we can consider this project as more than a jail project — which we most certainly need — but it is more than a jail project. It is about our ongoing viability, economically, in this area.”

Supervisor Rich Ruggles countered that if Siemann wanted the county to delay the jail project, the city should consider delaying a project of its own.

“If you’re going to ask us to step back, I’m going to ask you to step back from the library,” he said, referencing the plan approved by voters in August to expand the Carroll Public Library within the Farner Government Building. “I want to buy your building and kick you out. We want the whole complex. I asked this a year ago and everyone talked down on me and said it was a bad idea. … Would you step back from your library project if you’re asking us to wait five years?”

Siemann added that she wasn’t requesting a five-year delay, but rather more discussion about where the jail should be before the county moves forward.

Carroll County’s jail currently houses 14 people. The new facility would hold as many as 32 prisoners and could be expanded to hold up to 40 without additional structural changes to the building.

However, it also would be designed in a way that it eventually could accommodate a third floor.

The two-story jail would mimic the courthouse’s design and would look like a normal administrative building, not a jail, the supervisors said.

Although some thought jumping from a 14-prisoner facility to one that will hold at least 32 was too large, Supervisor Dean Schettler, the board’s most vocal opponent to the current proposal, said he doesn’t think the new jail would be large enough.

“When you build your (jail), it’s like the Field of Dreams — they will come, and they will fill it,” he said, noting the Cerro Gordo County jail, which through the years has grown from holding 32 prisoners to 90 to now 180. “Judges, if there are spaces that are available, they’ll fill those spaces as opposed to deferred sentences or anything. They want to get those people off the street if possible. They’ll lean toward filling these jail cells up.”

With the possibility looming that Iowa’s county jails and courtrooms could be regionalized in the future, meaning larger jails in fewer counties, Carroll’s choice to build a jail housing only 32 or 40 people, rather than more, could have consequences if the county wants the chance to become a regional legal hub, some argued.

“If we can’t offer the best facility for the community, we’ll miss out on that,” Bruner said.

The supervisors didn’t move forward with a decision Monday but will continue to discuss the best option for a new jail. Any option would involve a public referendum, preceded by a public hearing that would allow members of the public to share their thoughts on the issue.