Neighbors not convinced, 'no jail in our backyard'
As stiff neighborhood opposition to a proposed site for a county jail just north of Richland Avenue continues, the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors is looking to yet another possible site after a meeting Monday with Omaha architect Rod Moore.
The 5.72-acre site, on the south side of Richland and about 1,500 feet east of the East Richland Annex, is farther away from any residential development and seems to have a feasible asking price.
The main advantage of the 1.66 acres just north of its East Richland Annex that supervisors had been looking at is that the county already owns it. The obvious disadvantage is 50 petition signers from the Rose Lane and Tulip Lane area who oppose having the jail in their neighborhood. An earlier plan to obtain a building from Concordia School was derailed by protests from a handful of neighbors.
Supervisor Bill Lanphere said the new site on the south side of Richland, running east from Rothmoor Road, is zoned light industrial. Like all property in Storm Lake with the exception of a central business district, it would need a special use permit to be a jail site.
Moore said the structure would be designed to fit the site the county chooses . In a residential area, the aim would be for an unobtrusive design. In the area south of East Richland, said Moore, it may look more industrial to fit in with the surroundings.
"The most important thing to us as an architect is the function of the structure," Moore said. He suggested that precast concrete panels might be a consideration, similar to the structure of the Plymouth County jail, another Moore and Associates project. Moore said concrete block was labor intensive, and so drew a higher cost.
Moore seemed to take no position favoring either the county-owned lot on the north side of East Richland or the property available to the southeast. If a jail site should be chosen near a residential area, said Moore, "We can add some bells and whistles."
Moore, who did not seem to favor a basement earlier due to added foundation work, said the higher site south of Richland could lend itself better to a basement. Should a basement be added, Moore said a two-stop elevator going from the basement to a second story could cost $48,000 to $50,000.
Moore said he preferred simple designs due to maintenance costs. "Maintenance is an issue," Moore said.
Moore addressed both aesthetic and safety issues, concerns that had been presented earlier by petitioners in the Rose Lane and Tulip Lane areas. He said inmates would not be able to look out of windows at neighbors but rather that skylights would be provided.
'Every exit and entrance into this facility will have a sally port," Moore said. "Even if someone got into the sally port, they would not get out of the facility.
"Today (in contemporary jail design) we're monitoring these people 24 hours a day," Moore said. "It really lowers the stress level in the jail as far as the inmates are concerned."
Moore said he still needed to study the configuration of the administrative portion of the jail. He said the jail itself could operate very efficiently if designed property. "Conceivably you could operate the facility with one staff person," Moore said.
One thing Moore discouraged was overbuilding.
"You design for your immediate needs and a few beds more to allow for future growth," Moore said. Eyeing legal requirements for separating and classifying prisoners, said Moore, "conceivably your jail could be full at 80 percent capacity." Given such favors as county population, manufacturing facilities, and other factors, Moore said, "Forty beds may be pretty close. It may even be a little bit short."
Lanphere addressed public opposition to the proposed site.
"We had 50 signatures on a petition against this site," Lanphere said. He said of the city Planning and Zoning Commission, "They're already laughing at us thinking about it." Lanphere also noted that the site north of East Richland could carry added costs in trying to make the jail aesthetically pleasing to residents.
"I could conceivable see spending $30,000 to $40,000 to make it aesthetically pleasing to the neighbors," Moore said.
Moore said he could design a jail facility that could meet the configurations of either the county-owned land north of East Richland or the south south of East Richland.
Supervisor Jim Gustafson asked whether Moore could design a jail in the cost range of $3.5 to $4 million with options for a basement.
Moore said he could design a jail to meet whatever budget the county might have. He said building cells on site could be cheaper than premanufactured cells.
Lanphere said he assumed the jail design would include an area for Emergency Management and an electronic court room. "I think we're looking for economy of space as much as is practical," Lanphere said.
Henry and Chris De Man of 1616 Rose Lane objected strenuously to having a jail in their neighborhood.
"We don't care what the jail looks like," Henry De Man said. "We just don't want it there."
"I wouldn't want it," agreed Frank Klahs, a Farm Bureau representative, had a jail been proposed when he formerly lived in Storm Lake. Klahs added though that jail designs had changed since then and were far more aesthetic.
Chris De Man answered, "We just don't want in in our backyard."
Henry De Man cited traffic problems, particularly with school children crossing the street.
"I don't blame you for having concerns," Klahs said. He noted that the O'Brien County Jail in Primghar was one-half block from both the O'Brien County Courthouse and a school.
Chris De Man pointed to the 50 signatures that had been gathered on petitions and presented at an earlier meeting to the supervisors. "You think that would say something to you guys," she said.
"We already know your feelings," said Board Chair Lorna Burnside. "We don't expect it to change."
Moore said it is possible to return a design as quickly as three weeks. He said he could have a presentation ready for public meetings at the end of June and have adequate specifications prepared for a bond election at the end of August.