After countless hours of research and meeting more than a dozen times over the past six months, the eight-member Mills County Citizens Jail Committee has made a recommendation on the direction the county should go in addressing its jail needs.
The committee’s conclusion is that the county should acquire the former Anderson Auto Parts property on the east side of Glenwood Town Square to allow for the expansion and renovation of the existing jail and Mills County Sheriff’s Office building, a structure built in 1915.
According to the committee’s findings, a 24-bed facility on the site would meet the county’s needs for at least the next 25 years. Construction costs are projected at $5.6 million. In October 2007, Mills County voters said no to a $6.9 million bond issue proposal for the construction of a new jail / public safety center south of the Glenwood city limits. Committee members were determined to find a more cost-effective proposal this time around.
Pete Franks, a spokesman for the committee, said the group began studying the issue with no preconceived notions.
“We took a leave-no-stone-unturned approach,” Franks said.
The committee studied multiple sites for the replacement of the 93-year-old jail, including land adjacent to the Mills County Courthouse, an apple orchard on the campus of the Glenwood Resource Center and parcels of land near Malvern and the Interstate 29 – Highway 34 interchange. The committee also looked at purchasing the Antique Junction Mall building, located near the I-29/34 interchange, and renovating it.
In the end, however, renovating and expanding the current facility made the most sense.
Mike Malone, jail committee chairman, said he would have never guessed at the beginning of the evaluation process that renovating the existing jail would end up being the committee’s recommendation.
Malone and Franks noted that there were strengths and weaknesses identified with every site considered. The evaluation stressed cost-effectiveness based on 12 criteria, including security, total project cost, location, future expandability, common sense, public opinion and appearance. The close proximity to the Mills County Courthouse and the concept of utilizing an existing building on Town Square that is architecturally significant all worked in favor of the proposal to renovate the existing jail.
The committee’s recommendation was turned over to the Mills County Board of Supervisors, a three-member elected panel that must now decide if it wishes to present the proposal in the form of a bond issue to voters. Franks said a special election would likely take place in August 2009.
In 2007, Mills County residents soundly rejected the $6.9 million proposal calling for a 24,000-square foot complex that would’ve housed a 32-bed jail in addition to a new E-911 communications center and emergency management office. The committee’s recommendation calls for a 15,481-square foot facility without the community center and emergency management office.
The committee’s written report states that the county’s need for a new jail is “indisputable and urgent.”
The report says, “Existing facilities are cramped, insufficient and out of compliance with many regulations and standards.”
Alternative concepts the committee studied included contracting jail services from a third-party vendor, outsourcing inmates to other facilities in the region or working with other jurisdictions in the area for the construction of a regional jail. None of the alternative concepts were found to be feasible.
In 2006, Mills, Montgomery and Fremont County officials discussed building a regional jail but talks broke down when the three counties failed to reach consensus on a potential site for the facility.