County officials and citizen advisory committee members gathered in the Emergency Operations Center on Monday to learn about space issues facing county facilities. Those present included Rosemary Gannaway, left, Gracia Backer, Judge Carol England, Lori Twillman, Charles Jackson, John Farley, Commissioner Roger Fisher, Jason Bedsworth, Sheriff Clay Chism, architect Jennifer Wilson and Commissioner Gary Jungermann (not pictured). Photo by Helen Wilbers /Fulton Sun.
Several Callaway County facilities need attention, according to county officials.
“It’s not just the jail,” Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said at Monday evening’s citizen advisory committee meeting.
County commissioners convened the advisory committee to provide input on potential solutions to those issues. The group’s first meeting was Monday at the Emergency Operation Center.
Jennifer Wilson is an architect with N-Form, contracted to perform an analysis on the county’s buildings. She laid out the situation.
“We get called in when commissioners know they have problems with facilities,” she said.
N-Form looked at four county properties: the health department building, the public defender/juvenile building, the law enforcement center (jail/sheriff’s department/EOC/911) and the county courthouse.
Wilson took stock of the total floor space available in each facility, how much of that floor space was usable (as in, not occupied by stairs, elevators, etc.) and how much square footage is needed to allow for expansion over the next five to 10 years. She spoke with dozens of the buildings’ occupants to determine the last figure. She also examined code, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, structural integrity and other factors.
The health department building is in good shape all around, she said. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ended.
The historical courthouse building contains 28,088 square feet, only 19,465 square feet of which is usable. It currently contains not only the courtrooms and judicial offices but also most of the county’s administrative offices. Based on interviews with current occupants, the county actually needs about 40,218 square feet of space, Wilson said.
While Missouri has no state-wide building code, Wilson pointed out a number of areas where the courthouse falls outside of current fire safety norms. The building lacks enclosed stairs, a smoke evacuation system or a full-building sprinkler system.
While the checkpoint in the lobby represents a major improvement in courthouse security, there are still a number of problems surrounding inmate transport. Inmates enter through a public parking lot and ride the same elevator everyone else does. They also pass right by judges’ offices on their way to court.
On the plus side, the building itself is in great shape.
“It’s one of the most well-maintained courthouses I’ve ever been in,” Wilson said.
Law enforcement center
The law enforcement center covers about 34,644 square feet. Only 7,506 square feet is usable office space — the rest is occupied by the jail, elevators and so on. Wilson found about 22,158 square feet of office space will be needed within the next decade.
“Every office in the building is tight,” she said.
The jail portion of the building has many structural issues, detailed in this article: bit.ly/ccjailprobs. Sampling by N-Form determined there is a 5-inch gap between the jail’s slab and the soil, causing serious settling. Typically, a large, hefty building such as a jail would have thickened slab beneath load-bearing interior walls, not just the exterior walls. The jail, opened in 1989, lacks such footing.
Code issues exist as well: The “pods” containing cells aren’t properly sealed off from each other in a way that would prevent smoke from spreading, and there’s only one point of egress from the pod area. Worse, the jail currently has no ADA-compliant cells. If someone arrives at the jail in a wheelchair, they’re placed in a holding cell — which are already doing double-duty as the jail’s mental health wing.
The jail has its share of space issues.
Many days, it’s at or near capacity.
“When it’s nearly full, we look at who we can let out if we puts some restraints on them,” Judge Carol England said. “Sometimes, the answer is none of those inmates are safe to release.”
When it was built 30 years ago, the jail rarely housed female inmates. The 12 cells originally designated for use by female inmates now hold sex offenders, and female inmates live in the former work-release dormitory. This contributes to conflict among the inmates, Sheriff Clay Chism pointed out.
“There’s no place for them to get away from each other,” Chism said.
In one particularly hairy situation, a female inmate was sent to the Audrain County Jail because the suspect in the murder of her relative arrived at the Callaway County Jail.
Change is clearly needed, Chism and Jungermann indicated. The question is: What form should it take?
Option one involves a radical rearranging of county operations. The county could build a new “justice center,” combining the jail, courthouse and county law enforcement into one place. County administration could completely take over the current courthouse, which would leave plenty of room to grow.
“The trend among counties is separating judicial and administrative functions,” Wilson said. “That’s what they’re working toward.”
Based on square footage needs and current per-square-foot construction costs, Wilson calculated a $29,618,200 construction cost for a new justice center. That doesn’t include costs for renovations, acquiring additional land.
The county currently has $9 million in cash reserves, but the rest would be need to paid for through a bond issue or special tax.
Aside from the cost, space is a problem: After looking at all properties currently owned by the county, Wilson concluded none are large enough to house a justice center.
Option two involves adding on to the existing law enforcement complex and building a new courthouse, which Wilson estimates would cost about $10 million less than option one. (The property upon which the historical courthouse stands isn’t large enough to allow expansions).
This solution comes with its own problems. It doesn’t address the structural issues at the jail, for one.
“Adding onto the jail is extremely difficult,” Jungermann said. “The jail was not built for any kind of addition.”
The area behind the jail has a steep grade that would likely inhibit construction. Also, corrections officers in the “bubble” need to be able to watch all parts of the jail — something that’s already difficult but would become more so with an enlarged facility.
Wilson said her firm is continuing to brainstorm alternative solutions.
Members of the advisory committee are tasked with evaluating the various options available and advising commissioners on which seem most likely to be successful and draw public support. Meetings will be posted in the courthouse and open to the public.
By Helen Wilbers | Fulton Sun