Dane County Public Safety Building exterior

The Dane County Jail spans three buildings that include the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St.; the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd; and the Ferris Center on Madison's south side. 

The Dane County Board on Thursday will consider asking consultants to draft a third option for the long-awaited renovation of the county’s aging jail system, in a bid to evaluate project needs and costs more closely while getting critical improvements done more quickly.

This third option, to be designed at an added contract cost of $82,200, would break up the jail renovation project into three construction phases rather than two, as the first two renovation options were envisioned by consultants in their initial report in December.

The consultant team of Mead and Hunt, Potter Lawson, and Pulitzer/Bogard and Associates already have been paid about $1.26 million in fees by the board, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the overall project cost, estimated at ranging from $150 million to $166.8 million.

Regardless of the number of phases, all three options would replace a dated and dangerous cell block in the City County Building, while centralizing all Dane County jail inmates — now located in three buildings — and all or most administrative operations in a renovated Public Safety Building, located across the street from the City County Building.

The options also would provide separate space for younger inmates, expand work and education-related programming, and reduce the inappropiate use of solitary confinement cells by providing dedicated housing for inmates with mental illness and medical problems.

Jail remodeling options revolve around adding four stories to the five-story Public Safety Building at 115 W. Doty St. and building a six-story addition on a parking lot behind the PSB.

An important difference is that Option 3 would allow the county to more quickly address the most pressing safety and security needs, by moving inmates out of the CCB jail and into new housing in the PSB in phase 1, while cutting costs upfront, County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan said.

“This really takes the first phase of Option 1 and divides it into two sub-phases, so you’re not borrowing as much money at once,” Corrigan said of Option 3.

It’s for the consultants to figure out, though, whether total projects costs go up or down doing it that way.

“We want to be able to examine (the project) to make smart decisions about how to phase it,” Corrigan said. “We’re just investigating that possibility and we really want to drill down on the costs.”

The second phase of Option 3 would involve remodeling existing floors of the PSB to add more programming space. The third phase would involve construction of a five-story addition behind the PSB for programming space and additional mental health services.

Work-release inmates at the Ferris Center, on the South Side, also would be moved to the PSB, so that all inmates eventually would be housed in the remodeled PSB.

The consultants would have until June 13 to present their plans and cost estimates for Option 3.

Sheriff Dave Mahoney has raised alarm bells with elected officials for years over safety and security deficiencies in the CCB portion of the jail.

Built in 1954, the CCB is the oldest part of the county’s jail system, with frequently failing interior locks, and dated or obsolete design features such as barred-front cells and obscured sight lines that raise the risks of fire, suicide and sexual assault.

The CCB jail also lacks specialized housing for inmates with mental illness and medical problems, who make up about 20 percent of the jail’s population. That leads to what Mahoney calls the inappropriate and inhumane use of solitary confinement cells to house those inmates away from the general population, for lack of any better option.

The board last fall approved a measure to spend $4.4 million on some emergency fixes for the CCB jail, with limited improvements including new locks, new video surveillance cameras, fixed window replacements and the installation of a smoke management system.

But these improvements, while addressing some critical needs, do little to get at systemic design flaws, a lack of needed programming, the overuse of solitary confinement and operational inefficiencies inherent to housing inmates over three sites, Mahoney said.

“At what point in time do elected officials say enough is enough and let’s get this started?” Mahoney said.

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