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Proposed Kewaunee County jail running out of options

You will have to pay for a new jail facility in Kewaunee County, but it is just a matter of when. The Kewaunee County Board will discuss options at its July 18th meeting after bids came back over $7 million above the original estimates to north of $32 million. To build a new facility, the county board will likely either have to approve another $1 million of borrowing or reach into their fund balances to help make up the difference. Those prospects raised concerns among many of the Kewaunee County Board members, with supervisors inquiring on whether they can put more money into the existing facility or send its prisoners to other facilities in the region, which it does now when they are unable to house them. Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski says those may not be viable options, calling them band-aids while the cost of a new facility is only going to go up more.

The board approved the construction of the proposed Kewaunee County Jail last July to the tune of $25.6 million, which was lower than the $32 million that was originally projected before the project was scaled back. Joski adds that he appreciates the scrutiny the board has placed on the project in the name of protecting the county’s taxpayers. The rest of the July 18th agenda has not been released as of July 11th.



Last week, I provided an update on where we stand with the proposed Jail facility Project. In that article I laid out a brief history of our planning and processes along with financial information as it currently stands.


Of the many questions that I have been asked throughout these past years of planning, is about our options. This is a valid question, as any and all options must be explored and weighed for their merit, so that once a decision is made, we are able to say that the project put forth is the best option, both in short-term costs as well as long-term costs.


In looking at the various options we must also make sure that cost is not the only focus, as we must also weigh each option for its ability to address both operational costs and operational liability. I am proud to say that the exploration of options was prioritized in the early days of our planning, and only after an exhaustive effort, did we arrive at the option to build a new facility on green space.


Although at the time of the decision to move forward last year, the Board was almost unanimous in that vote, with the recent realization of cost increases for the proposed new facility, talk of options is once again front and center.


So what are our options? The first is to move forward in the building of the new facility. This new facility would address our ongoing challenges both from a capacity and programming perspective as well as from a safety perspective. This facility would serve our community long into the future and provides a footprint and vision for future phases when the time would come to move both the Sheriff’s Department and Courts to that site. It provides the greatest level of efficiency in operational costs as well. This is important as the building itself is a one-time cost, however, the operational costs are perpetual.


The second choice would be to turn our attention once again back to the existing building and expend resources to remain in that building. This option is problematic as it is a building built in the late 1960s and was built to meet the building codes and State Department of Corrections codes for that era. While we are able to be exempt from those codes as this building is Grandfathered, once we start making modifications, those exemptions would no longer be valid. The question of what we can or can’t do to remain exempt from current code, is not clear. We could begin the process of trying to correct deficiencies, only to find out, we need to go further, and in going further, we then cross that point, and need to be in compliance. This is significant concern, as there is no way for this current building to meet the various codes of today, without major renovations and even physical building additions. Even after that effort and cost, we would still not solve the safety issues that come with our linear-style jail versus current pod design.


Anyone that has embarked upon the remodeling of an older home or restored an old vehicle knows exactly what I’m talking about. You can begin with the best intentions of limiting the scope of your efforts only to be faced with new “Layers” of issues you could not have predicted. In this case, we are dealing with 50-year-old structural, plumbing, and electrical components, which have been exacerbated by numerous fixes, and a patchwork of remedies to get us by year by year.


I commend our County Board for the many years of diligent study and scrutiny that this project has undergone. The decision that lies before them is significant, and time has not been nor will it be in the future, on our side. Delaying the inevitable will only bring more costs, and expending additional resources on a building which is no longer relevant would be a disservice to future generations.   


It is my hope that this community will support our Board in their decision.


As always, I can be reached at (920)255-1100. Thank you! 

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