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Fillmore County takes tentative steps toward 34-bed jail

The county considered options from transporting inmates to other jails to building a 365-day facility.

Fillmore County Jail Proposal.png
An artists rendering shows the proposed plan for a new addition (orange) to the Fillmore County Jail. The old jail would be renovated for office and storage space, and the new addition would hold up to 35 beds for inmates.
Contributed photo / BKV Group

PRESTON — The money has to be right, but as it stands Fillmore County will move forward with a 32-bed, 365-day jail.

Tuesday, the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners will consider a contract with BKV Group, a Minneapolis-based architecture firm, to design a new jail for the county.

The design, though, said Fillmore County Commissioner Duane Bakke, is to eventually get bids on the project and see if the county is heading down the right path financially or not.

"Until we go out to bids and see what the cost is, we won't know if the bid meets the number we think works," Bakke said.

County Administrator Bobbie Hillery said the county is hoping for a jail that comes in somewhere under $7 million.

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For that price, the current jail will be remodeled into administrative space, storage and room for some non-incarceration programs such as work release. Then a new jail facility with about 32 beds will be added onto the old facility.

According to the initial proposal from BKV Group, the renovation cost would be around $860,000. The addition would come in at $5.2 million, bringing the total to about $6.1 million. Rough estimates mean the cost could go as high as $6.8 million.

"Our goal is to give them the best jail facility with the least cost," said Bruce Schwartzman, an architect with BKV Group.

That cost would be fine, Bakke said, but if the bids come back higher, the county would have to reconsider its options.

Those options, Bakke said, amounted to three things: building a jail certified to hold inmates all year around, otherwise known as a 365-day facility; building a 90-day certified jail to replace the current 90-day jail the county uses; or building a 72-hour holding facility.

Both of the last two options would involve some level of transporting inmates to other counties with long-term holding facilities.

Bakke said the under-$7 million target would fit in nicely with several financial factors for the county.

First. the county has a bond debt payment about to come off the books that would be equivalent to a new bond of roughly $4 million.

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Second, the county would be able to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to reduce the overall pricetag from the low- to mid-$6 million range down to roughly $4 million. That means a new jail could be funded without taxpayers seeing a significant change to their tax bills, he said.

Bakke said items like the HVAC at the jail and some safety and spacing features fall under ARPA guidelines.

Hillery said if the bid cost does not come back in line with estimates, the county board members have said they might go back to the drawing board and look at options like a new or remodeled 90-day jail, or consider a 72-hour holding facility that would mean transporting inmates to another county.

"The study that was put together by the study group showed that was actually, when you take all costs into account, cheaper to build a 365-day," Bakke said. "If you do a 90 day, or similar to what Dodge County is doing, the travel costs would bring that to a more expensive model."

Hillery said the board visited a newly constructed jail in Cresco, Iowa, and wanted to see something similar.

Bakke said that meant no bells, no whistles and bare basics for the facility.

And a key, he said, was maintaining the same amount of staff to run the new jail, which would mean operating costs would be about the same.

The other advantage of the proposed design, Bakke said, is that it allows the jail to house up to 11 different inmate populations.

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One of the keys to modern jails, Schwartzman said, is to be able to separate disparate groups of inmates, meaning keeping violent offenders from nonviolent, women from men, and other categories.

All this, Schwartzman said, means maximum flexibility in housing inmates and keeping staffing efficient.

Bakke said the process of picking the right jail solution is far from over, but it's important the county make the right decision for the taxpayers and the inmates who enter the correction system.

"I wasn’t a big fan of building a jail when we started this," Bakke said. "But we've spent time, presenting this to cities and civic groups. I haven’t had people call and tell me not to build a jail."

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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