GREENFIELD – County leaders are investing $800,000 in the proposed criminal justice complex project and have tapped a consulting firm to start drafting a design.

Following a strategic planning meeting this week, the county council agreed to put up to $800,000 toward the work, a step that moves the much-debated proposal forward as they decide how to finance the estimated $55 million they’ll need to complete it.

Constructing the new jail and renovating other buildings would take a few years, representatives from consulting firm RQAW told county officials.

But having preliminary designs in hand will give county officials a better idea of how much the project will cost and a more concrete plan to share with residents, county commissioner Brad Armstrong told council members.

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Having a plan in place — and county officials all on the same page — will make it easier to sell to the public, said council member Martha Vail.

For more than two years, county leaders have debated how to handle overcrowding in the Hancock County Jail, which consistently houses more inmates than its 157-inmate capacity.

Last spring, RQAW recommended the county build a new jail large enough to house 440 inmates and renovate other county buildings to make more space for several criminal justice departments, including probation and the county’s community corrections program. Preliminary discussions have also highlighted the need for an area dedicated to helping inmates struggling with addiction recover.

Since then, county officials have debated whether building a new jail is the best option and how to fund it. The county commissioners have continued to move the project along, while members of the county council have been more hesitant.

But Tuesday, the council agreed to pay for preliminary design work after the commissioners urged them to do so.

Project stakeholders met for about two hours to discuss what a new jail would look like and what programs it might include. Going into the meeting, no one was sure any steps would be taken to push the project along. The meeting was called to hear more information from some of the employees dealing with the overcrowded jail.

Vail — who asked her fellow board members to agree to fund the first draft of the project’s design — said she didn’t attend the meeting planning to shake things up, but she felt compelled to “kick the can forward” after hearing the discussion.

Everyone seems to be on the same page, Vail said: the criminal justice complex won’t be a place only for locking away criminals; it must also be a place for community members to receive rehabilitation and treatment for addiction and mental health issues.

And if everyone agrees, it’s time to move forward, she said.

“We need the facilities to provide the help,” Vail said. “I’m for it. I feel like it’s going in the right direction.”

The $800,000 will be paid through proceeds that remain from funding the county borrowed a few years ago to make improvements at the jail and other county buildings.

The commissioners approved the design contract with RQAW. Representatives told the commissioners they’ll start working on a design immediately with plans to present a first draft in about 60 days.

Staff writer Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this report.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or