Douglas County Commission approves further design work on county jail, rejects suggestions move is ‘premature’

photo by: Mike Yoder

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County commissioners approved moving ahead Wednesday with the design of a possible Douglas County Jail remodel and expansion despite hearing from a handful of residents the move was premature.

Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to Treanor Architects’ contract for the jail project, which will allow it to complete the first two of five components of the jail’s fifth and final design phase. The work, for which Treanor will receive $518,000, will consist of the completion of schematic designs and the design development stage of planning for the mechanical, plumbing, electrical, structural, security and other systems needed for the project.

Treanor has completed the first four phases of its design contract for the jail. In January, the firm presented preliminary footprints and conceptual renderings of the jail expansion, which would add 120 beds to the existing 187-bed facility at an estimated cost of $30 million.

On Wednesday, five members of the public took the podium at the commission meeting to question the timing of further design work on the jail while the Douglas Community Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was looking at possible ways to divert inmates to alternative placements. They maintained the coordinating council’s work could result in policies and practices that could significantly change the jail’s design and reduce the number of beds needed.?

“For the record, criminal justice councils who have done this across the country have made massive reductions,” said Ben MacConnell of Justice Matters, a group that has called for a full review with an independent consultant of all alternatives to incarceration before the County Commission puts a jail expansion question on the ballot.

Commissioners responded that design work could go forward on components of the jail expansion and remodel identified as needed from nearly three years of county review of the issue. They said some of those known needs reflect changes in the jail’s populations that have occurred since it was designed two decades ago, such as the increase in the daily population of female inmates from four to 40. There is also the need to add elements that will make the facility more efficient, like a proposed pod in which newly incarcerated inmates could be observed before they were placed in the proper security sections, commissioners said.

The work of Treanor Architects wouldn’t be premature because it would be done in conjunction with that of the coordinating council, commissioners said. Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who serves as chairman of the coordinating council, said the council’s recommendations would be “fundamental” to the design work.

The additional design work would provide more accurate cost estimates for the project, which would be critical should the county place a ballot question on the project before voters, commissioners said.

Commission Chairman Jim Flory said Treanor only would be asked to move on to the next design stage, the completion of bid-ready plans, should voters approve the project.

Flory restated the county commission’s decision to place on the same ballot question the jail expansion and a mental health crisis intervention center. Treanor was awarded the contract to design the crisis center in January. Commissioners agreed Wednesday to schedule a work session on that facility for 4 p.m. July 20.

In addition to the jail expansion and crisis center, the third prong of the county’s approach to criminal justice reform proposal is a mental health court. Commissioners scheduled a work session on a proposed mental health court pilot program for 4 p.m. July 6. Jill Jolicoeur, assistant to the county administrator, said it was important to have that work session before July’s 2017 budget discussions because it would include a funding request.

Commissioners also unanimously approved the appointment of Kansas University professor Charles Epp as the 15th member of the criminal justice coordinating council.