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Local News

Barry County commits to replacing too small, crumbling jail

After more than an hour of discussion Tuesday, Barry County Commissioners committed to moving forward on how to replace the Barry County Jail and the Commission on Aging building.

 

Billed on the agenda as a discussion on recommending a course of action to address current and emerging Barry County facility issues, it quickly centered on a problem the county has wrestled with for years, the aging and inadequate jail.

 

The other major topic was the COA building that was identified as the second most pressing facility issue facing the commission. The COA is also too small to serve the emerging numbers of seniors in the county and the building is in need of extensive, expensive repairs.

 

The tone of the discussion was set early by Commissioner Jon Smelker. “We were elected to do this job; it’s time we did it.”

 

Through discussion, some from the public in attendance, one idea after another was kept in the discussion or discarded in favor of concentrating on the two identified major issues, the jail and the COA.

Choices were narrowed down to what would have to be done to begin substantive progress on the jail issue; they decided that the location would have to be determined before they could ask for architect’s drawings, prices or even what the jail would look like.

 

The commissioners will work as a committee of the whole and not use a steering committee or sub-committee approach. They will find out how other spaces the county owns might be used, if other offices could or should be moved, if some should be sold. They will need professional help to learn much more and to make recommendations.

 

They agreed a facilitator would be necessary with commissioners making the final decisions on each step of the process. County Administrator Michael Brown will seek Requests For Qualifications (RFQs ) for facilitating services related to replacing the jail and the COA for the board to interview.

 

Several people said keeping the public aware of actions the commission was taking was considered critical, and commissioners agreed. “This is going to be the largest project in the county in decades; it’s important to involve those who will pay for it,” Commissioner and Chair Ben Geiger said.

 

One decision often affects others.

An example: A request for renovation and additions to the Barry County Transit was sent to the full board next week without a recommendation. Geiger said he hoped an already-in-the-works commercial appraisal of the property the transit and the jail share will be available by next week, both singly and as one parcel.

 

If the property is worth, say $25 million, they may consider selling the transit to help pay for a new jail. If it’s worth $3 or $4 million, they wouldn’t figure on selling it, and the transit would likely be given permission to expanded.

 

Commissioners agreed that they should go over their facilities plan from 2015 to see what is still valid and hear from groups that have done work on the subject. The sheriff’s office has a committee working on that, and there are government organizations that can supply valuable knowledge on what other municipalities have done or are doing about replacing jails.

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