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AUSTIN EDITION - Study: Jail needs to triple capacity

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

The Mower County Jail should have nearly triple the number of beds it has in order to address future needs, according to consultants hired to study the matter.

The jail can hold 45 prisoners, but its capacity should be increased to 120 to meet the needs of the next 20 years, according to a summary from KKE Architects and Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services Inc. Sooner than that, however, the jail needs to expand by 25-40 beds to meet current needs, the report says.

Although six options were presented to the Mower County Board on Tuesday, the architects recommend just one: building a new jail on a site large enough to allow for future expansion.

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The most likely location for a jail is the Austin Business Park, owned by the city, county board member Ray Tucker said.

"A site that's consolidated is our best choice," David Voorhis said.

While KKE included $750,000-$1 million to extend utilities to an undeveloped site, the city is planning to do that to promote the business park, said at-large City Council member Wayne Goodnature, who attended Tuesday's meeting.

"I can't answer with any specificity, but it's been our plan to take care of the sewer and water yet this summer. I think we're pretty substantially committed to that, and I'd think we'd be even more committed if the county is looking at it for a jail," Goodnature said.

Building downtown would require an expensive "sky bridge" to connect facilities, and room to grow is limited, Randall Lindemann of KKE said. A skyway would cost $7,000-$9,000 per foot to build, he said.

"You know if you're downtown, you're going to be boxed in by curbs," he said. "That doesn't address the current security problems you already have."

Some problems include inadequate space for visiting, for prisoners to exercise and for educational opportunities, the summary said.

"We had a lot of consultants tell us our jail looks beautiful when we had it remodeled four years ago, and now it's junk," Tucker said.

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Inside:

Architects outline six options for jail -- Page 3B

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