BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council rejected the proposal by Brookings County commissioners for a jail expansion on the county courthouse square.
The council met Tuesday to discuss how the International Building Code applies to the detention center project, and the written findings on the county’s proposal.
The first part of the discussion centered on the International Building Code, particularly whether a building permit is required for the jail project.
Since the county courthouse is a historic building, the City of Brookings’ Historic Preservation Commission initiated and conducted an 11.1 historical review process, and part of that is whether a building permit is required, according to a memo by City Attorney Steve Britzman attached to the agenda, available on the city’s website.
“Based on guidance from the Attorney General’s office, it appears a building permit application initiates an 11.1 historical review procedure if the proposed construction impacts an historic structure. While Brookings County has not applied for a building permit, the City believes that city ordinances require building permits for construction projects similar to the proposed Brookings County Detention Center expansion. The city attorney believes that the only entities exempt pursuant to law would be the U.S. government and its agencies and the State of South Dakota and its agencies,” according to Britzman’s memo.
“The South Dakota State Historical Society issued its recommendation on Aug. 29, 2018, and concluded that the proposed Brookings County Detention Center Project does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties,” according to Britzman’s memo.
“On Nov. 6, 2018, the County of Brookings completed its own 11.1 review and determined that there were no feasible and prudent alternatives to the construction of the Brookings County Detention Center expansion in the manner and location as outlined in its project plans,” according to Britzman’s memo.
“There has been a lot of dialogue between the city and the county, which I think is always good. … Occasionally, there are issues that perhaps aren’t reconciled or there is not agreement. And we’ve kind of reached one point of disagreement with the county and that was whether or not a building permit would be required,” Britzman said in the meeting.
The resolution is an unusual step, but it’s a “sincere effort to try to apply the city ordinance,” Britzman said. “We felt that it would be appropriate for the city to make a statement, if approved by the city council, that we feel that the International Building Code and the city ordinances of the City of Brookings would apply to this project.
“We felt it was important to have a public statement of our position” for future records, Britzman said.
The resolution under consideration by the council was: (1) that by this Resolution the City of Brookings gives notice to Brookings County that its construction plans for the Brookings County Detention Center require a building permit before construction may begin; and (2) that the City authorizes the retention of outside legal counsel for the purpose of taking necessary legal action to enforce the City’s building code.
Janet Merriman, chair of the Brookings Historic Preservation Commission, said the 11.1 historical review process was put in place by the state to protect historic properties so they aren’t destroyed.
“The Brookings Historic Preservation Commission is Brookings’ certified local government organization … We have architects, historians and other interested citizens who understand those federal and those state standards and we’ve already performed our reviews and made our statements,” Merriman said. “But they don’t seem to have been considered by the county.”
Merriman said her group supports the resolution requiring the building permit.
“If this comes down to a legal battle between the city and the county, I certainly don’t want to see my money spent that way,” said Doug Smith, a local resident.
He said he thought the jail expansion was already approved and the county could proceed. He also thinks the expansion plans look better than what is there now.
“I am totally for keeping it where it is. It’s been there 44 years and served us well. I see no reason to have to spend a lot of extra money to move it out of town … make it more risky for the officers that are transporting these people,” Smith said.
The council approved the resolution unanimously.
Disapproving jail proposal
Britzman explained the resolution, which asked the council to approve or disapprove the county’s proposal for a new jail expansion.
He said the resolution is a necessary step and would conclude the 11.1 review process. His memo outlining the process is attached to the agenda on the city’s website, along with 14 other documents.
“A lot of work went into the process of reviewing this,” Britzman said, adding the city has had an 11.1 review process for a long time. They have been looking at the jail expansion proposal for more than a year and have been trying to work out differences with the county for the past four to six months.
“We have a great cooperative relationship on a number of different facets … but this is an issue we have not been able to resolve,” Britzman said.
He said there were two proposed resolutions: one to approve the county’s proposal and the second to disapprove the proposal because it does not satisfy the 11.1 review requirements.
The council chose to move and discuss the resolution to disapprove the jail proposal.
Merriman said the BHPC supports the rejection of the proposal. The county calls it an expansion, but “it’s only 17 feet from the courthouse, it’s gonna look like an addition. The west wall’s flush with the courthouse front,” she said.
When the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, part of the reason was the courthouse’s placement in the center of the square “and it dominates the block,” she said. It’s a “grand building in the middle of the square.”
It’s a meeting place for the whole community: Farmers Market is set up on the street in front of it; other organizations meet or start activities there, she said.
The presence of the courthouse will be diminished by the massive addition, she said.
“Both the state and the historic preservation commission’s position have been that the county proposal does not meet the federal and state standards,” Merriman said.
What will happen in 30 to 50 years when we need another, bigger, expansion, she asked.
“Now, our poor little courthouse is surrounded on both sides by a massive addition,” she said. “We would lose those historic features totally.”
There are other alternatives to constructing the jail expansion on the courthouse square, she said.
Anthony Teesdale, an attorney with Ribstein & Hogan Law Firm, was not in favor of rejecting the county’s proposal.
Teesdale said the courthouse had been talked about a lot, but “somehow the word ‘justice’ wasn’t mentioned.”
He spoke about the courthouse’s practical purpose as the halls of justice.
Many people are involved in dispensing criminal justice, not just attorneys and judges, he said.
Staff need access to inmates. Clients need access to attorneys and judges. And that access can take place now in just a few moments, Teesdale said.
“If we move the jail off-site, outside of town, we’re denying these people reasonable access. They’re now going to have to wait 15-20 minutes for their attorney to travel,” Teesdale said.
“And when I’ve got to build some travel like that into my schedule, it’s making it a lot less likely that I’m gonna be able to run over there real quick between a couple of meetings.”
It will take court services officers longer to do drug dependency evaluations with people who want to get into Drug Court, he said.
“The system we have right now is efficient and just. And we are able to have that system because we’ve got law enforcement, court service officers, attorneys, judges, all working together to get things done quickly,” Teesdale said.
“Historic preservation is about the way the courthouse looks. But what about the historic purpose of the courthouse to do justice?” he asked. “We’re not doing justice to our citizens if we’re denying them access – quick access.
“Right now, what we’ve got is a criminal justice campus. It’s a one-stop shop for justice as far as I’m concerned. And that’s precisely what Brookings needs,” Teesdale said.
Councilor Leah Brink read a statement saying they weren’t there to debate whether the jail expansion was needed or what it looked like; they needed to make a technical determination about the historic preservation practices and the work the local and state historical preservation groups have done.
“Does a proposed project have the potential to encroach upon, damage or destroy a historic property?” she asked.
There are standards used by the groups to make these determinations, she said.
Both groups determined that the project has the potential to damage the historic Brookings County Courthouse, Brink said.
The courthouse has been on the National Registry since 1976, she added.
“It is still legally up to the city to decide whether to issue a permit,” Brink said, adding that was upheld by a memorandum from the state Attorney General’s office in 2013.
The county chose to bypass the state law “and make its own determination, which is a little like the fox guarding the henhouse, if you will,” Brink said, adding it would be “an unfortunate precedent” to set.
She said she is not blind that going forward will require “expenditures of resources and that is truly unfortunate for everyone involved.”
She asked the others to join her in denying the county a building permit for the detention center enhancement project.
“Then we can take the next step in this process and finally conclude this,” Brink said.
The council unanimously approved rejecting the county’s proposal.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]