by ZACH KAYSER
The County Board on Tuesday voted 3-2 to approve designs for an 80-bed jail. Commissioners Marie Kovesci, Greg Olson and Chris Meyer voted in favor, while Commissioners Marcia Ward and Steve Jacob voted against.
After a presentation of the schematic plans by the architectural firm Klein McCarthy, Jail Administrator Steve Buswell addressed the board. He said an active goal of his during the process had been to avoid a repeat of 1977, when the county opened the jail that exists today, but it almost immediately was out of compliance with regulations by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). Buswell said he had been working closely with the DOC in order to anticipate future changes to DOC rules.
Then, the commissioners debated. The rhetorical lines were very similar to debates the board has had on the potential new jail for years. Jacob and Ward argued the $25.64-million jail project cost too much money and the county could simply export its prisoners to other counties. However, the board majority argued that the county’s research had shown that transporting prisoners would actually cost more money than building a new jail. Meyer in particular said she struggled with voting to support the construction of a new jail, especially given the police shooting of Daunte Wright just a few days earlier. However, she had an obligation to support the construction, out of compliance with state law and also out of concern for the welfare of the inmates, she said.
After years of the local jail not meeting state code, the DOC plans to shut down the existing Winona County Jail on October 1. A DOC spokesperson said that as of March the agency had not received a request for an extension from the county. However, county officials expect to receive an extension from the DOC as long as they display good-faith effort to build the new jail.
Now that the board has approved the schematic designs, planners can work on detailing those designs to the point they are usable as construction documents. After the construction documents are released — Klein McCarthy architects said on or about July 29 — the project can go out for bid by potential contractors.
Dispatch double duty?
At the current law enforcement center, county staff who are supposed to field 911 calls are also supposed to remotely operate the controls for jail functions, such as opening doors when jailers radio in to request that the doors be opened. The new jail will retain the same system, staying in the LEC despite the jail being in a separate building.
Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude said Monday that despite the schematics calling for county staff operating both emergency dispatch and the new jail central controls, each function will run smoothly.
“It meets our needs,” Ganrude said of the schematic plans. “I’m satisfied with what we’ve come up with.”
Ganrude said three, sometimes four staffers run both currently. Typically one person will handle city emergency calls, one county calls, and the third will focus on the jail, he said. Given the number of inmates and staff the county would have, Ganrude did not foresee a problem with maintaining the same system with the new jail.
“I think that this is going to work fine, with the dispatchers still taking care of the [jail] doors for us, and being our central command,” Ganrude said. “I don’t see it being an issue.”
He also said he didn’t anticipate asking for more dispatch staff in the near future.
A report by the county’s Jail Advisory Committee forecast the average inmate population at the jail will rise to 69 people by 2028.
As far back as 2018, concerns about the dispatch issue were raised by Tom Weber, who was hired by the county to consult on the jail project.
“You’ve got dispatch expected to watch 60 cameras while they’re doing everything else,” Weber said at the time. “What if dispatch is busy?”