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Public Safety Building

Dane County could pay a consultant an additional $186,000 to look at three new options for a revamped county jail after the projected cost to build a jail in Downtown Madison next to the Public Safety Building nearly doubled to about $150 million. 

Dane County’s efforts to close its troubled jail in the City-County Building may once again be subject to the scrutiny of a study after consultants found insurmountable hurdles in advancing a plan to consolidate at the Public Safety Building in Downtown Madison.

The County Board’s Public Protection and Judiciary committee and Public Works and Transportation committee on Tuesday approved $186,000 for consultant Mead & Hunt to study three new options for the Dane County Jail, including renovations to current structures and a potential new facility on county-owned land.

The committees heard from Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, Chief Deputy Jeff Hook, county project manager Scott Carlson and Chris Harp, project manager for Mead & Hunt. Harp said the study would adhere to the scope of the project approved by County Board, which includes reducing inmate beds, increasing programming space, improving health care and mental health care, and limiting solitary confinement to extreme cases.

If the County Board approves the $186,000 at its next meeting March 7, three options will be studied by consultants Mead & Hunt, Potter Lawson and HDR:

  • A full renovation of the jail in the City-County Building and a renovation of the Public Safety Building.
  • Renovation of the Public Safety Building and an additional facility on unidentified county-owned land.
  • Solely building a new, comprehensive facility on county-owned land.

Mahoney did not say which option he prefers, but said he wants to close the half-century-old jail in the City-County Building, where an inmate recently killed himself and others face significant health risks.

“My desire is that we do something,” Mahoney said.

The study would provide conceptual layouts, approximate costs and a rough design schedule, Harp said.

The County Board and its committees have spent years studying options to close the outdated jail on the sixth and seventh floor of City-County Building, to also close the Ferris Huber Center and to consolidate jail facilities under one roof. The board approved $76 million in borrowing in the 2018 county budget to build additional floors onto the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St.

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But when Mead & Hunt, Potter Lawson and HDR did a pre-design analysis of the building, they found that the structure — while safe and stable as is — isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of additional floors.

It was not cost-effective to strengthen the structure, so the consultants proposed an adjoining eight-story tower to the Public Safety Building on the adjacent surface parking lot. Consultants found that option would cost $150 million — about double the approved spending. Consultants and city staff said building two underground floors, the increased cost of steel and other construction materials, increased labor costs and the logistics of building in the city’s Downtown have added significantly to costs.

On Tuesday, many questions directed at Harp related to the boundaries of the study. It will not offer suggestions on a potential county-owned space, how much it would cost to transport inmates to the county courthouse in Downtown Madison, or how work-release inmates would be transported to work sites or have access to public transportation.

Some members of the committees asked for expansion of the study’s scope to include such information. But the corporation counsel staff member present said doing so would require county staff to renegotiate the terms of the contract with the contractors.

Sup. Tim Kiefer cast the only no vote on allocating the $186,000, in part because he favors the previous option to expand the Public Safety Building, despite the cost.

“I am not comfortable spending $186,000 of taxpayer money on a study of a greenfield site when we don’t know where that greenfield site will be,” Kiefer said.

Before voting, members of the committees debated how to move forward with the project, with the increased cost of another study and what some said were undesirable options, as greenfield space could add to the purchase and transportation costs. Hook said if money for a new study is not approved, the county would have to kill the jail renovation project or spend $150 million for the addition to the Public Safety Building.

Sup. Paul Rusk asked members of the committees to consider the ramifications of not moving the project forward, which he said would include continued fear of harm to inmates at the City-County Building jail and the continued use of solitary confinement for inmates who need services not currently available.

“If we don’t move forward and have a decision soon, we’re going to continue the same problem we’ve had for years and years and years,” Rusk said.

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