West Wilson Street parking lot (copy)

Two Dane County committees voted in support of a jail renovation plan that includes building a new structure in a county-owned parking lot facing West Wilson Street. 

Two Dane County committees voted Tuesday to formally recommend moving forward with a $148 million jail renovation plan that involves building a tower next to the existing Public Safety Building in downtown Madison.

The committees acted unanimously on voice votes, unsurprising after both signaled support of the south tower option at a meeting May 7. Ultimately, the south tower option will bring the county’s three jail facilities into a consolidated downtown location.

“We should all be proud of all the work work that has been done by each and every one of you today as we move on and forward with the upgrade to our jail system,” said Supervisor Maureen McCarville, chair of the Public Protection & Judiciary committee.

The committees chose the south tower option over three alternatives that were more expensive and would likely have required building on a site outside of downtown.

“It’s the most logical solution out of the four options that were on the table,” Dane County Deputy Chief Jeff Hook said.

Under the south tower option, the county's jail operation would vacate the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building and the work-release Huber facility on the south side. It would renovate the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St., and build the eight-story tower next to it on West Wilson Street.

The jail renovation project will address medical and mental health concerns, minimize solitary confinement and bring the jail into compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It is also expected to decrease the number of beds in the jail from 1,013 to 922.

Citing a suicide, an in-custody death and hundreds of self-harm events that occur in the Dane County Jail, Supervisor Paul Rusk, District 12, expressed relief that the committees supported the south tower option.

“We really do need to move forward, and I’m glad we’re passing the resolution,” Rusk said.

The major jail project stalled last October when the county learned a $76 million renovation plan approved in the 2018 budget that involved building on top of the Public Safety Building would not work because it was discovered that the structure cannot support additional weight.

After learning of the building’s shortcomings, the county moved forward with building a tower next to the Public Safety Building in a parking lot facing West Wilson Street. The county commissioned a study of the three additional options after balking at the $148 million price tag.

However, the three additional options studies were estimated to cost between $161.1 million and $220.4 million, leading Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to say the south tower option “seems to make the most sense.”

The project cost is $148 million, but it is estimated that the county could spend about $220 million after paying the total principal and interest over a 20-year period. This would add an estimated $50 in taxes to the average home in Madison.

The Personnel & Finance committee will take up the resolution May 28 before the full Dane County Board votes June 6.

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