Public Safety Building

The Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St., cannot withstand additional weight on top of the structure. 

A Dane County committee supported legislation Tuesday that would authorize an investigation into the construction of the Public Safety Building in an attempt to determine why the structure cannot hold additional weight.

Last year, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved a $76 million jail renovation plan, which would have consolidated the county's three jail facilities into one by adding floors on top of the downtown Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St. However, the county learned in October 2018 that the building cannot hold extra weight, though it was built in the early 1990s with the expectation that it could.

Because of this, Dane County is pursuing a $148 million plan for the jail that is nearly twice the cost of the original plan to expand the Public Safety Building.

“This resolution says that we’d like some answers,” said Maureen McCarville, chair of Public Protection & Judiciary Committee.

The Public Protection & Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in support of the resolution with expanded language to investigate the architectural firm, the general contractor, their insurers or any other responsible party. The original firm is no longer in business, according to the resolution.

The Public Safety Building, which opened in 1994, was designed with the intention of adding more floors at a later date. A resolution from February 1992 specified that the “design needs to consider future vertical expansion.”

However, at the time the County Board approved the project, supervisors could not agree on the height and construction proceeded without setting a time frame for the additional floors to be added. A subsequent resolution in October of the same year was indefinitely postponed by the County Board.

According to the resolution approved Tuesday, Dane County does not know why the Public Safety Building was not constructed as directed 27 years ago. It suggests identifying and analyzing contracts, blue prints and change orders to determine potential responsibility.

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“While pursuing action against responsible parties will not solve the issues in our jail system, it could be possible to off-set some of the costs the county will incur as a result of being unable to build on the current facility,” the resolution states.

The resolution directs the Corporation Counsel and the Department of Public Works and Transportation investigate whether it is possible for the county to hold the original firm or its insurer on the Public Safety Building project in 1992 and 1993 responsible.

If approved by the full Board of Supervisors, a report and next steps would be due in writing by Sept. 1.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.