GREENFIELD — Representatives from the consulting firm, RQAW, who are working with county leaders to design a new jail, this week unveiled renderings of what the facility might look like on a new construction site located just south of the current jail.
Officials learned earlier this month that the original proposed site of the new jail building — a parking lot located between the current facility at 123 E. Main St. and the county’s community corrections building — wasn’t feasible to build on. They’ve crafted a new proposal, one they say would put the project right at the $55 million price tag local leaders had been hoping to avoid and would force five local families from their homes.
Building a new jail is part of a multi-million dollar plan to help alleviate overcrowding in the current jail, provide more mental health services to inmates, increase jail staffing and renovate existing county criminal justice buildings. Hancock County residents will vote on a referendum on May 8 asking if the county can increase property taxes to help pay for the project.
A geological survey conducted recently on the originally proposed site showed poor soil conditions and a high water table — issues that could lead to flooding problems, especially because project plans call for the new jail to have a basement, project manager Sanjay Patel said.
So, RQAW went back to the drawing board. And this week, during a joint meeting of the Hancock County Council and the board of commissioners, they revealed a backup plan that calls for constructing the new jail on a site just south of the current facility.
The property is located at the corner of Meek and South streets in Greenfield, to the east of the courthouse annex and north of the Pennsy Trail.
Five houses currently sit on the site, and the county would need to purchase and demolish them in order to put the jail there. Patel said the process would likely put the project right at its proposed $55 million price tag.
The three-member board of commissioners had hoped that $55-million price tag would be a “worst case scenario.” They’ve hoped that after further design and planning, the project would prove to be less expensive.
But the alternative site — which has undergone soil testing showing it’s a good building option — meets the county’s needs, and acquiring it to build upon someway, someday has always been part of the county’s master plan, Commissioner Brad Armstrong said. He and his fellow board members have had preliminary conversations with several of the homeowners who would be impacted, and they seem willing — even glad — to cooperate, he said.
This week, Patel showed county leaders renderings of what the interior and exterior of the new jail, on its new site, would look like. He also presented drawings of what renovations and remodeling would take place in the county’s existing criminal justice facilities.
The outline for what renovations would occur to the county’s existing buildings has remained consistent.
The probation department, which is currently housed in the courthouse, would move into the existing sheriff’s department administrative offices, located in the basement and a wing of the existing jail.
Hancock County Community Corrections would move into the inmate-housing side of the current jail, giving that department the space it needs to expand and house about 50 more individuals.
The prosecutor’s office would be moved into the existing community corrections building — a change from the proposal that consultants say is more cost-effective. Originally, plans called for the prosecutor’s office to move into the first floor of the courthouse (where the probation department is currently housed). But there wasn’t enough square footage there to allow for future growth of the prosecutor’s office, Patel said, so the designers made an adjustment.
This frees up space in the courthouse for the creation of a fourth court, should one be added in the future, he said.
The new jail on its new site would still house 435 inmates; but it would now consist of a shorter, broader building rather than the seven-story inmate-housing tower that was originally proposed, meaning it’s “not quite as prominent” as what the original building would have been, Patel said.
The front half of the structure would stand two stories tall — the same height as the courthouse annex — and would have room for the sheriff’s department’s administrative offices on one floor and the book-in and medical areas of the jail on the other, Patel said.
The back of the building would stand four stories tall and would consist entirely of inmate housing, Patel said. Two, two-story pods (each with two-level cellblocks) would stack on top of one another, keeping the capacity at 435, as originally proposed.
The tower’s tallest point would be 60 feet high. By comparison, the Hancock County Courthouse, which would sit a block away, stands more than 100 feet tall, officials said.
The lower-level pod would be designed to house inmates who are in recovery, Patel said. The cellblocks would have a more dormitory-like style, and there would be classrooms and meeting areas that inmates and counselors could utilize.
The upper-level pod would house the maximum security inmates, those who need punishment rather than assistance. The new jail would also have a basement that would consist of a kitchen, laundry facility and various storage, Patel said.
The building could still be structured so that future county leaders could add a third pod to the top and increase jail capacity even more, should it be needed one day.
Because the county is still in the planning stages, the designs Patel presented this week aren’t set in stone, he said; it’s a plan his team came up with that can be adjusted and changed. They hope to have final renderings in the coming weeks.
But county leaders seemed supportive of RQAW’s new proposal.
Council members Jeannine Gray and Bill Bolander both remarked during the meeting that they preferred the alternative plan to the original one.
Read original story from the Greenfield Reporter here.