Archive for Friday, October 20, 1995

NEIGHBORS WANT MORE JAIL INPUT

October 20, 1995

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County officials say they're not likely to reconsider the site for the new Douglas County jail.

East Lawrence residents want designers of the new county jail to slow down and give neighbors an opportunity for input into what the new facility will look like and where it will be located.

During a Jail Design Committee meeting Thursday morning, project architects displayed cardboard models of three possible jail designs. Using a tabletop mockup of South Park and the county's administrative complex at 11th and Massachusetts, the architects showed how the designs would fit within their proposed environs.

K.T. Walsh, a member of the East Lawrence Improvement Assn.'s board of directors, said it's one thing to discuss the project in terms of tabletop scale models and another to live next to a 196-bed jail.

``At this point, this group is standing around doing the aerial view and talking architect talk and now I think we need some public input,'' she said.

Jail planners can expect increased scrutiny from East Lawrence, Walsh said.

``The discussions are going to get bigger and more heated,'' she said. ``I guess I'm saying this to prepare us for what's coming.''

Of the three designs now under consideration, two place the jail directly south of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center and one would wrap the new building around the southeast corner of the Douglas County Courthouse.

Tom Williams, the lead architect on the project, bristled at the suggestion that the design process has not incorporated input from the community. He said the jail design committee has been meeting since July and that its membership included a resident of East Lawrence and a member of Trinity Lutheran Church.

``To say that there has not been a process here, I would strongly have to disagree,'' said Williams, who works for Michael Treanor Architects.

Now that the design choices have been narrowed, Williams said, ``it's time to lobby the county commissioners as to which of the three alternatives you prefer.''

Walsh and several other East Lawrence residents who attended the meeting also called into question the choice of a location for the jail. They asked whether the impact of the jail upon South Park, the nearby residential area and downtown didn't warrant exploring another site.

Dan Rowe, another architect on the project, said the design team was committed to making the jail be esthetically compatible with East Lawrence.

``We are studying the neighborhood as well while we design the building,'' Rowe said.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug and County Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney said voters approved the site last November when they supported the 1 percent sales tax that will pay for jail construction and operation.

``As part of the election to sell this to the public, we indicated this as the site,'' Weinaug said. ``To now start considering another site would, I believe, be regarded as bad faith.''

Walsh said that during the sales tax election the county also had estimated the cost of building the new jail and transforming the current jail area in the JLE Center into office space at about $11 million. Since the design process began, jail architects have said the cost of constructing the jail could run as high as $15 million.

``Since that has changed so much, it's fair to look at the whole paradigm,'' Walsh said. ``It's not fair to say we can't talk about that because until something's built, everything is up for grabs.''

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