BROOKINGS – Brookings County commissioners unanimously approved on Tuesday a resolution stating their arguments against the findings of State Historic Preservation Office and the Brookings Historic Preservation Commission.
The document also sought to show that the county has done its due diligence in pursuing alternative sites for a new jail and why the current spot is still in the county’s best interests.
The county’s full resolution can be found at http://www.brookingscountysd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/6817?fileID=6411.
The resolution was created to provide a response to the State Historic Preservation Office, which had reviewed the documents for the proposed expansion of the Brookings County Detention Center after the Brookings Historical Preservation Commission voted against the plans. The county was required by South Dakota codified law to respond to SHPO, which agreed with the BHPC’s findings, explaining that they considered all “feasible and prudent” factors.
And that difference between feasible and prudent was an important point to county commissioners. As Brookings County Commission Chairwoman Lee Ann Pierce said, although feasible means whatever is possible, prudent refers to what makes sense or is practical.
“As the commission that looks at spending our tax dollars and looks at the safety of our citizens, we have determined that we have considered everything that is feasible and prudent and made a determination that the jail should be remodeled in its current location,” Pierce said.
Pierce also clarified that BHPC does not have the final say in whether or not the jail can or will be expanded at its current location; instead, they get to have a chance to review, comment on and make recommendations regarding projects presented to them.
“That’s true whether we’re talking about the local historic preservation or SHPO. They do not make the decision; the governmental unit, the political subdivision of the state of South Dakota that’s conducting the project, which in this case is the Brookings County Commission that makes the final decision,” Pierce said.
Still, there were opponents to the county’s resolution present at the meeting. Some of those opponents were those who live near the jail while some were simply citizens concerned about how the project might impact the Brookings County Courthouse.
One of the main arguments put forth in the county’s resolution is that keeping the jail at its current site puts it in the middle of five vital entities: East Central Behavioral Health, the Brookings Police Department, the Brookings County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Brookings County Courthouse and Brookings Hospital.
Given the increasing attention treating mental health in inmates has received in recent years, they say the 3 1/2-block distance between the jail and East Central provides critical access for inmates and counselors alike.
According to the resolution: “(I)nmates at the jail often do not have a valid driver’s license and, if eligible for work release, or pursuant to a court ordered furlough, may walk to East Central from the jail to participate in alcohol treatment, anger control programs and so forth.”
At a distance of three blocks, the jail’s location is also in close proximity to the Brookings Police Department. That’s important, the resolution states, given that a “large percentage of the arrests made in Brookings County are made by City of Brookings police officers who then transport the defendants to the jail,” with frequent trips between the jail and the police station.
The Brookings County State’s Attorney’s Office is around the corner from the current jail site.
“Deputies make regular trips to the State’s Attorney’s Office for the purpose of delivering documents, evidence, and preparing for court as well as testifying at grand jury proceedings which are held in the City & County Government Building,” the resolution states.
Similarly, the courthouse is next door, providing convenient access and communication for law enforcement and attorneys.
No less important is the jail’s proximity to Brookings Hospital. The resolution states the county had 53 involuntary mental health commitments in 2017, most of which took place after regular business hours.
“After hours, a citizen goes to the jail, meets with an officer, and completes the necessary paperwork to start the commitment process. After the paperwork is complete, the person being committed is taken to the Brookings Hospital emergency room and is held pending a determination by a qualified mental health professional whether that person should be transported to a mental health center for further proceedings,” the statement explains.
As to concerns about the expansion’s impact on the historic nature of the courthouse, the resolution notes that the project would not require any changes or additions to the courthouse itself and argues that the jail is just as historical to the site as the courthouse. The resolution notes that the original courthouse was a wooden building erected in 1883, and the current courthouse was constructed in 1912. However, a jail has also been on the site since 1904, which was replaced by the current jail in 1975.
“Nothing historic in character will be removed from the property,” the resolution reads. “The only items that will be removed were mentioned above: a razor wire enclosure, a cement parking lot dedicated to law enforcement and a nominal amount of green space, as well as two wooden storage sheds used to store maintenance equipment.”
The county also remains skeptical that there’s readily available land nearby that could be its new jail site. County officials estimate they’d need five acres of land but note a shortage of buildable land within city limits and possible zoning restrictions and issues that would come into play.
Outside of the city limits, there are floodplains and other building restrictions to consider, as well as whether utility infrastructure is already available or would have to also be added.
One resident who lives next to the current jail, Doug Carruthers, reiterated his stance that building onsite would prove to be a short-term fix for a long-term problem that will have to be readdressed. As he put it, building at the current site would be a stranded investment as they will eventually run out of space to build when they need to once again expand.
He also argued that proximity isn’t an issue when looking for alternative locations given the size of Brookings.
“Brookings in its longest dimension is about 5 miles across, so the idea that access and proximity with the funding you provide to BATA and the scale of our community generally is to me not very strong support.”
Volga resident and former county commissioner Mary Negstad expressed her disappointment in the current commission’s direction and decisions regarding the jail expansion.
“I feel like you have chosen to take the easy way out. There are many reasons why it’s convenient, however, when you say you’re concerned about the historic preservation. We have one of the most beautiful courthouses in the state. I would like to see it look like a courthouse,” she told the commissioners.
South Dakota State University Department of Architecture Department Head and associate professor Brian Rex took issue with seeming downplaying of the impact of the expansion’s mass and scale.
The volume of the construction is significant, he said.
“The fact is that we are going to raise the footprint of building structures on this site. It’s about to go from 5 percent coverage originally, the current is about 10 percent and we’re about to go to about 20 percent of the total site covered.”
He also expressed his disappointment as an architecture professor in the BKV Group, the architect group leading the project, saying they and the county clearly have a difficult client relationship.
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]