County revisits detention center options

Town hall planned for 7 p.m. Sept. 11

BROOKINGS – Brookings County commissioners were brought up to speed about the latest options explored for the Brookings County Detention Center by architect group BKV Group on Tuesday.

It was the first major update to the project since it was denied a zero-foot variance request by the Board of Adjustment June 1.

Bruce Schwartzman, a partner architect with BKV, gave the presentation during a public hearing. The presentation was given for strictly informative purposes, and no action was taken by commissioners.

The public is invited to a planned town hall, which will review all this information and allow time for questions. The town hall will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 in the third-floor chambers of the Brookings City & County Government Center.

The county commission will not take any action at the town hall.


Pros and cons

In this presentation, an updated option for building an addition to the jail as well as renovating existing space and details about building a new facility away from the current building were given.

Building on-site leads to lower costs to run the jail, and it means better access for the judicial system as it meets with inmates, and the same is true for the public. However, BKV acknowledged ongoing community concerns about aesthetics of the structure next to the courthouse and that it’s less easily expanded in the future.

Building off-site allows for the creation of jail plans with no site limitations and a lower per-square-foot cost to build. It’d also be easier to expand the structure in the future. But it would face challenges, making access to the jail more difficult and time consuming for law enforcement, anyone from the judicial system and members of the public who wish to visit someone there. It’d also have a higher operational cost.



Originally, expanding the jail at its current location with a zero-foot setback was going to be a $10.8 million project, with $3.5 million coming from county cash reserves and $7.3 million coming from project bonds. Construction costs alone accounted for an estimated $9 million.

In the latest study, the project was given new setbacks that would still have to be brought forward for approval. Along the north side of the property following Fourth Street, depending on the part of the addition, would have a setback of 7 feet, 5 feet or 10 feet. Along Seventh Avenue, the setback would be 13 feet, 8 inches or 8 feet, 4 inches at its closest.

To get a practical, functional facility, they need a setback variance of some kind, Schwartzman said. If they had to adhere to the standard 25-foot setback acceptable for the property’s zoning, it’d mean building a taller structure.

“There is no way we can build this space that’s required and still respect the elevation of the courthouse,” he said.

This new on-site plan would cost an estimated $12.6 million. The county still would pay $3.5 million from cash reserves, but the project bond would increase to $9.1 million.

“The cost of construction went up because now we're looking at some stone veneers, we're looking at some crown detailing, we're looking at some windows being applied that weren't applied before,” Schwartzman said.

“Also, we're looking at trying to fast track to get construction moving, but there's a slight implication of that as well. So the increase to create a more aesthetically pleasing setup that blends a little more and appeases the neighborhood and their concerns a bit more… Again, as we move into the design further, we're going to be developing much more detailed estimates. Our goal would be as we move ahead to find a little bit of savings, finding a little bit of efficiency.”

A possible new part of this plan would be extending the curb at the intersection of Fourth Street and Seventh Avenue so that Fourth Street would then align with the rest of that street. As is, that street is further north on the east side of Seventh Avenue, which has caused issues.

An extended curb at that end of the street would also allow for another spot to add landscaping such as shrubs and trees to help beautify the area. Additional landscaping would also be done along the setback, buffering the jail and the sidewalk.

Schwartzman emphasized that a lot of the existing landscape would remain untouched by construction for the jail expansion. On the west end of the courthouse block, trees would be untouched, as there would be no need to do any work further west from the front of the courthouse. The existing trees would do a sufficient job of covering the jail addition from the northwestern corner.



An on-site jail expansion would not be as tall as the second floor of the courthouse, never mind as tall as the main structure.

Still, commissioners asked if anything more could be done to minimize its height. Commissioner Lee Ann Pierce asked if the addition could be set further into the ground, but Schwartzman had his doubts, believing it'd impede the efficiency and safety of the space.

In order to remain ADA compliant, they'd then have to include ramps and likely an elevator to ensure accessibility.

“If you try to drop that whole section down, I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but it adds ramps and stairs and a level of operational complexity that is not good. … It would add accessibility issues. We'd have to add an elevator to that design,” he said.

The design shown strived to complement the courthouse, using comparable materials and patterns that would play well with the historic building.

The exterior of the existing detention center and Sheriff’s Office would be altered to match the new build.


Off-site expenses

Building on an off-site location could cost $14.3 million, though there are many variables involved, starting with the cost of land. In this option, BKV included $250,000 to go toward buying land, estimated with a property purchase of $25,000 per acre.

The new jail building could cost an estimated $8.2 million with another $400,000 going toward remodeling the existing jail area, which would still see use even with an off-site facility.

As County Commissioner Stephne Miller said, that’s a major misconception about building off-site, that doing so would mean the existing facility would be taken down.

“That’s not going to happen,” she said. “That is always going to be there; it is always going to be next to the courthouse until such a time as the courthouse is outgrown, too.”

“The functions that would remain at the (current) jail is inmate holding for court hearings, and the 24/7 Sobriety Program would remain on site. Keeping those operations there has a certain staffing impact,” Schwartzman said.

Seven full time correctional officers are now employed at the detention center, along with 12 who work part-time. By moving off site, it was recommended they hire another six full-time correctional officers, which would cost another $420,000 each year. There would also be an estimated $300,000 increase in transportation costs each year.

Site development costs are expected to be double what they’d be for the on-site expansion, costing an estimated $864,000.

The county would still pay $3.5 million from cash reserves, and $10.8 million would be bonded.



In searching for off-site locations that would work, there were four main site criteria that were kept in mind: at least five acres of land available; access to sewer, water and power utilities; direct access to main roads; and zoning that allows for this type of building.

There were about 10 sites fitting this description within three miles of the courthouse, but the process of choosing a property to pursue, negotiating a price and reaching a deal are all a potentially time-consuming roadblock for the county, Schwartzman said. Still, overall, the roadblocks for building off-site are fewer than the limitations that come with building on-site, meaning that overall, construction could be completed two or three months sooner.

No addresses for these possible alternate sites were given, however. The reason for that was because “if the county should go this way, I think one of the first things to do is to sit down with potentially a few property owners and start to negotiate. So we didn't define each address because we've seen sometimes where properties have been inflated when they think there is interest in their property,” Schwartzman said.


Freedom off-site

And one of the benefits of going off-site is the additional freedom gained in designing and laying out the footprint of the building.

“The footprint of the jail doesn't have to morph itself around existing conditions,” Schwartzman said.

Over 20 years, the typical span of a bond, building off-site could have a $15 million impact.

One way to mitigate this impact that wasn't gone over extensively with the jail committee was if a justice center was built, moving court functions out of the current courthouse.

“If your judges were amenable to picking up and moving all court functions off-site or you keep part of court functions here and move other court functions off, that would negate a majority of the costs on this operational impact. But you would be building more off-site,” Schwartzman said.


Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]


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