HJ/EDHerald Journal, Dec. 5, 2005

Changes in store for Wright County

By Jenni Sebora

Growing by leaps and bounds, Wright County’s population estimates have increased by 31 percent in the last 10 years, from 68,770 in the 1990 census to 89,986 in the 2000 census.

That growth equates to growth in many areas, including the need for more jail space.

Thus, the talk of a new jail began in 1999, and the idea has moved forward to the present stage of meeting with architects and builders.

Projected to break ground in the spring of 2006, with an estimated completion date of November 2008, the county will be constructing a new jail north of the public works building in Buffalo.

The jail will come with some savings to the county and its taxpayers.

“We just have to remove the gravel at the site, and we can do the project at a reduced cost because the county already owns the land,” District 5 Wright County Commissioner Dick Mattson said.

Mattson noted that the site is a good location for the new jail for a number of reasons, including its proximity to the public works building and its location to a main highway, which will make the access to the new jail easy.

“The site will work well for the sheriff’s offices, and there are plans for road improvements on Highway 25, between Buffalo and Monticello,” Mattson said.

The law enforcement offices will also be a part of the facility. Mattson noted that the county government is growing also, and the court house is at capacity. Two new judges have been moved to the Wright County Government Center, and courtroom space must be provided for them, Mattson added.

“The law enforcement department’s move into the new facility will free up space in court administration for courts, public health, or other needs,” Wright County Sheriff Gary Miller added.

The existing jail was built in 1991 and was projected to last 20 years, but because of the rapid growth of the county, there is need for more jail space, Mattson, who also serves on the court security and detention facilities committees, explained.

“We are also studying more efficient ways so we can do a better job of predicting issues and growth in the future. But it is obvious we have to move forward (with the jail project),” Mattson said.

The existing jail has 103 allotted bed spaces, which is consistently at capacity, and when it is 85 percent full, it has reached capacity because of weekend and volunteer jail inmates, Miller noted.

To presently address the space issues, inmates are being transferred to other area jail facilities. Wright County has worked out an agreement with Sherburne County to transfer overflow inmates to that site currently, Miller noted.

The agreement with Sherburne County has minimized the cost and is the most effective alternative because its facility is closer than other facilities, which means less transportation costs, Miller added.

But both Miller and Mattson agree that a new jail facility in Wright County is necessary. Costs are incurred by renting space from the jail in Sherburne County, and the longer the project is delayed, the more it will cost.

The projected cost of the new jail facility is approximately $42 million, which includes the jail, law enforcement offices, parking lots and striping.Inflation is factored in also, Miller noted.

“The price is a sticker shock. It’s a lot of money, but to keep things in perspective, I believe that the St. Michael school bond was $100 million. These buildings cost a lot of money. Growth is good, but it carries a price tag,” Miller said.

“But on the flip side of that, there are many more businesses and home-owners, so the impact on each taxpayer is reduced,” Miller said

“We projected as accurately as possible and factored in the necessary costs. There is nothing fancy about the building project. It’s just a basic jail – no bells and whistles – just what’s necessary,” Miller said.

The jail is set to hold 250 inmates, but can be double-bunked to hold 450. The facility is designed to accommodate 600 prisoners eventually, without major remodeling. Reaching the 600-inmate level would not require changes to the basic infrastructure such as the kitchen, sewer/water, recreation, and laundry facilities.

Both Miller and Mattson agree that the jail building is necessary. There is not enough room in the existing jail.

“I check the existing jail every day and everybody in there should be in there. There are people who need to be incarcerated and I believe citizens understand that and want that,” Miller said.

“We are currently at the point of putting out requests for architect bids,” Miller said. “There is quite a bit of work to do yet.”

Mattson added, “Wright County has one of the best law enforcement agencies in the state and we want to keep it that way.”

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