St. Cloud prison in middle of $37 million worth of upgrades
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Every male offender enters the Minnesota prison system through the same corridor in St. Cloud, and it's a tight squeeze.
Prisoners enter and leave the St. Cloud facility through a cream, cinder-block hallway decorated with Minnesota mascots and team logos. It's not ideal to have inmates, who may be at odds, crossing each other, said Dean Weis, the prison's security captain. And some staff members have been injured there.
But safety concerns for that intake area won't last too much longer, because it's up for renovation in the next three years.
The prison will soon undergo the second phase of upgrades with $37 million in bonding from the state. Phase one, which included a new health center, is nearly complete. Phase two updates laundry, warehouse and intake spaces.
It's the first major renovation in the prison, Weis said. Its construction started after 1885 when the Legislature decided to open a prison on a quarry, and work continued into the 1920s, according to Stearns History Museum archives.
The prison's history is so important to the state that the Minnesota Historical Society gave feedback on reconstruction plans. The new health center's exterior is a shade of grey concrete that precisely matches the prison's characteristic granite walls, cut from quarries on site by inmates starting in 1891.
Now the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud holds more than 1,000 offenders Each month about 400 men come in and 400 leave. Offenders of all risk levels come in for assessment and orientation at the start of their sentence.
Corrections staff like their spaces to be open and visible, said Warden Shannon Reimann. The current health center is anything but.
A diagonal hallway runs through the health services area, creating odd corners and nooks and crannies. One eye-exam room is L-shaped with a full corner out of view from the door and a huge, exposed pillar taking up several feet.
The health center is 6,300 square feet, according to officials in the Department of Corrections. It was crowded with staff and patients on a recent tour.
The new health services building will more than double the size to about 15,000 square feet. And it will have straight lines of sight, Weis said.
Phase one of the renovation has already exceeded its expected 18-month timeline. It may wrap up this fall after about two years. It won't cost more than the $18 million in state bonding.
State lawmakers approved $19 million in bonding for phase two of the project. Phase two is in the bidding process and could take three years to complete. Staff will have to set up temporary spaces while the intake area is under construction.
"That will be the big challenge," said Reimann. "It's a big project."
There are three holding cells in the intake area. After the renovation, that transfer area will have separate channels for incoming and outgoing offenders. Each side will have four group holding cells and three cells for individuals.
There will be new spaces for confidential interviews with inmates on matters like their health histories.
Phase two also includes moving the warehouse storage area outside of the main building. It's a security issue, Weis said, because the unloading area is too small for today's trucks and the door stays open during deliveries.
Outside construction crews are renovating the prison. But inmates built the prison more than 100 years ago.
"At the time of the construction of these buildings they were considered as among the finest on the United States, on account of their being absolutely fireproof and unrivaled in their sanitary conditions," states a St. Cloud Daily Times article from October 1926 in the Stearns History Museum archives.
Prison officials sought $207,500 for new buildings and repairs in 1926, according to that article. That request included $12,000 for a horse barn, $1,500 for a chicken house and $40,000 for a new hospital.
The correctional facility used to be called a "reformatory." It housed education and vocation programs, including a barber school, farm program and training to become a blacksmith, tailor and other trades.
St. Cloud's prison is still home to a barber program and a masonry program.Offenders who qualify come to St. Cloud for that training or for the work programs there. Much of the work is still done by the offenders, from plumbing and cooking to campus upkeep. The secure facility takes up 55 acres.
"The facility is like a little town," Reimann said.
Parts were renovated in 1998, but the prison population has grown since then, Weis said. He's worked there for 30 years.
Most offenders leave St. Cloud after a couple months, after staff assess mental and physical health and many other factors to assign the men to different prisons. And more come in to replace them.
Managing phase two of the renovation around the 1,000 inmates won't be easy, but that hasn't stemmed the enthusiasm among prison leadership.
"We're elated," Reimann said. "It is much needed."
And as the main facility is updated, the staff have their eyes on its perimeter. Officials would like state bonding to add sensors and cameras to the inner fence.
The original granite wall also needs repairs. There are cracks to fill and mortar to replace.
And it might have to be done in a historic manner, Weis said. "It's an expensive endeavor."