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Jail Consolidation

One proposal by Mead & Hunt for the Dane County Jail is to build an eight-story addition to the Public Safety Building on property now used for parking.

A plan to consolidate Dane County’s three jail facilities was supposed to cost $76 million, but structural roadblocks have halted the original plan and likely doubled the cost, setting up a new round of opposition to the project.

County Board members are to begin reviewing four options for renovating, consolidating or rebuilding the facilities on Thursday, the start of a monthslong process before a final vote. But some members are already signaling a preference for the cheapest option, which involves expanding the Public Safety Building in Downtown Madison.

The board had originally approved adding four floors atop the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St., as part of a plan to consolidate jail functions currently spread over three sites: maximum-security cells on the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building; medium-security cells, booking, administrative offices and other services in the Public Safety Building; and the Ferris Huber Center near the Alliant Energy Center in south Madison, where minimum-security work-release prisoners stay.

But when consultant Mead & Hunt found the Public Safety Building could not carry the extra weight, the company began looking at building an eight-story expansion on the parking lot behind the building; it would provide roughly the same amount of space.

When the price tag came in at $148 million, the board approved a study costing $180,000 to look at three other options that hadn’t been considered before. All have different trade-offs but would cost even more.

Contractors: Public Safety Building not strong enough to support additional floors as planned
Three new options for new Dane County Jail after costs for Downtown site double

Doing nothing is not an option, county officials say, noting the poor conditions in the outdated jail at the City-County Building.

“Like many people, I recognize the price tag is high, but it is critical that any plan provide the necessary space for rehabilitation and mental health care, and eliminates the use of solitary confinement,” County Executive Joe Parisi said.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney has long called for a new or renovated facility to replace the cell blocks at the City-County Building, which he has called dangerous and inhumane.

The first option proposed by the consultants is an eight-story tower built atop the current parking lot behind the Public Safety Building, which would connect with the existing structure. That project would come in at about $148 million, and staffing would cost $35.7 million per year.

The other three options would require the purchase of a new “green field” site, likely outside the city.

Building a jail on an undetermined site would cost about $220 million, the consultants found, with staffing at around $34.1 million a year.

Building on a new site and renovating the Public Safety Building would cost about $164.5 million, with staffing costs of $41.4 million a year.

Renovating both the Public Safety Building and the jail in the City-County Building as well as building a facility on another site would cost about $161 million, with staffing costs of $45.9 million.

Dane County Jail options

Project comparisons Tower addition Renovate CCB, PSB* and build new Renovate PSB and build new All new construction
Total cost $148 million $161 million $164.5 million $220 million
Estimated completion Mid-2024 Early-2027 Mid-2024 Mid-2023
Total square feet 401,700 417,300 459,500 445,500
Staffed positions (FTE's) 317.7 404.6 377.7 303.3
Staffing Costs $35.7 million $45.9 million $41.4 million $34.1 million
*City-County Building, Public Safety Building

“Of these options, it looks like building the tower (at the Public Safety Building) is the best option,” County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan said.

Building a tower connected to the Public Safety Building would keep the jail next to the county courthouse, allowing for easier transportation of inmates to court, and its Downtown location would make it easier for work-release inmates and visitors to access public transportation.

Mahoney last week said he wants the county to consolidate all jail services into one facility but said he didn’t have a preference on whether that site was the Public Safety Building or a new site.

Dane County sheriff wants jail services consolidated

Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, 2nd District, who represents the northern half of Madison’s Isthmus and East Side, has opposed spending more money on the jail and voted against measures to approve the original $76 million in the 2018 budget. She said the focus and money should be put toward diversion options for people with drug abuse or mental health problems, which often contribute to behavior resulting in being sent to jail.

“People should be treated humanely when incarcerated, there’s no doubt, but that still doesn’t mean people who are sick should go to jail,” Wegleitner said.

Wegleitner also said the board should wait for Public Consulting Group, a firm hired by the county, to complete its analysis of behavioral and mental health services in Dane County and the feasibility of creating a crisis restoration center that would accept people with mental health problems on an emergency basis.

The money for that study was approved along with the original jail spending in the 2018 budget, but county adult community services administrator Todd Campbell said that the study’s completion date has been pushed to October of this year.

“I feel like we’re putting the cart before the horse on this,” Wegleitner said.

Mead & Hunt said each of the plans follow objectives put forward by the County Board, including:

  • Replacing the outdated cell blocks in the City-County Building.
  • Providing better medical and mental health housing and programming spaces.
  • Greatly reducing or eliminating solitary confinement.
  • Creating multipurpose spaces for spiritual use.
  • Replacing the Ferris Huber Center.
  • Reducing the total number of beds in the jail system to 922.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.