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Jail Consolidation

Two Dane County committees approved the consolidation of the county's three jail facilities, which would include construction of an eight-story tower on the parking lot behind the Public Safety Building in Downtown Madison.

With little discussion Tuesday, Dane County’s vision of a consolidated, up-to-date jail moved forward despite the $148 million price tag.

The Public Works and Transportation Committee and the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee approved the project to build an eight-story tower connected to the Public Safety Building at 115 W. Doty St. Following construction, the county will close its outdated jail on the top two floors of the City-County Building as well as the aging Ferris Huber Center near the Coliseum on Madison’s South Side.

Sup. Paul Rusk, 12th District, who is a member of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, said he supports the addition because it will close the City-County Building jail. That facility opened in the 1950s and has been described by Sheriff Dave Mahoney as dangerous and inhumane.

“We worry about deaths in the jail, but we already are having them,” Rusk said, referring to suicides and other deaths in recent years. “It really is time to move forward.”

Following Rusk’s comments, both committees unanimously approved the project and spending. County Controller Chuck Hicklin has said that with a borrowing period of 20 years, the county would spend $225 million with interest included.

The Finance Committee will vote on the proposal next Tuesday before it goes to the full County Board on June 6.

At their last joint meeting May 7, the committees had chosen the addition over three other options consultant Mead & Hunt analyzed.

Four proposals for Dane County Jail rebuild cost twice the originally approved price tag

The other options were:

  • A new jail constructed at an unidentified location.
  • Renovations of the Public Safety Building and construction of a new facility.
  • Renovations of the Public Safety Building and City-County Building and construction of a new facility.

The County Board had originally approved $76 million in borrowing to build four floors atop the Public Safety Building to accommodate the consolidation — something county officials had believed possible — but Mead & Hunt determined that the building’s structure wasn’t strong enough to hold more floors.

Construction plans at Public Safety Building change, adjacent tower to be built instead of floors on top

The addition would be built on county-owned space next to the Public Safety Building that is currently being used as a parking lot. It would include mental health and medical beds, would greatly reduce the use of solitary confinement and would be a safer environment for maximum security inmates who are currently housed at the City-County Building. Consolidating the jail will also reduce the total number of beds available.

Sup. Paul Nelson, 9th District, who is chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, said after the meeting that the county is committed to diversion methods to reduce the need for the jail but that the spending is needed because of the conditions current inmates must live in.

“The county is doing a lot of things to reduce the jail population,” Nelson said. “But we can’t keep people in that sixth and seventh floor in the City-County Building.”

Juvenile center

Both committees also approved a contract for $264,000 with Venture Architects of Milwaukee for architectural and engineering design at the City-County Building for the juvenile detention center on the second floor. The firm would work on designs for renovation and expansion of the detention center to accommodate children committed to confinement.

Dane County hopes to become one of several smaller youth prisons following the state-ordered closure of the current youth prisons, Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, both in Irma, following years of misconduct and abuse allegations at that site.

John Bauman, county juvenile court administrator, said that 95% of those architecture fees as well as construction costs will likely be reimbursed under the current order passed by the state.

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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.