Design firm said it needs more guidance on jail

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GREENFIELD — Consultants from the Indianapolis firm hired by the county to handle designing the proposed new jail say they need more guidance from local leaders before they can move forward with a plan to put the facility on land known as the county farm.

Specifically, they need to know what of the county’s criminal justice departments should be constructed on the site. They cautioned that the cost of the work would need to stay within the $30 million cap the council has set.

Meanwhile, the heads of some of the criminal justice departments that would have shuffled location once the new jail was constructed have asked county leaders to come up with a temporary solution for their own overcrowding and structural issues.

Some, like the county probation department, are outgrowing their current office space; others, like the prosecutor’s office, are in dire need of maintenance and repairs, they say.

Representatives from RQAW told the Hancock County Board of Commissioners that before they can come up with a design that would put the jail on a plot of county-owned farmland, located along U.S. 40 between county roads 400E and 500E, they need to know exactly what county leaders would like build there.

It showed a facility consisting of two side-by-side (rather than stacked as they were in the original design) inmate-housing pods, which would give the county an option to add on in the future, project manager Sanjay Patel said.

There was little office space included in the rendering, Patel said, but adjustments could be made once the county irons out what it wants on the farmland site.

The county farm is now the third proposed site for a new jail. The current facility is overcrowded and regularly houses upward of 190 people when it’s meant to hold only 157. Those numbers will keep climbing in the coming years, experts say: a study found the jail’s population will surge to more than 400 in the next 20 years.

The original proposed site was a parking lot located between the current facility at 123 E. Main St. and the county’s community corrections building. A geological survey conducted in the spring showed poor soil conditions and a high water table — issues that could lead to flooding problems.

The county commissioners then decided to move the project to a property located at the corner of Meek and South streets in Greenfield, to the east of the courthouse annex and north of the Pennsy Trail. Five houses currently sit on the site, and the county would have needed to purchase and demolish them in order to put the jail there — a process that would have put the project right at its proposed $55 million price tag.

In June — after a referendum asking if the county could increase property taxes to help pay for the new jail was denied by voters — the Hancock County Council asked the commissioners to scale back the plans to cap the project at $30 million and move the proposed site to the county-owned farmland.

Little progress has been made since then. There haven’t been any established timelines, but county officials believe construction would take at least two years to complete.

Now, the leaders of the criminal justice departments that would have moved to different locations, giving them more, renovated space for themselves, say they’re feeling the strain.

Mike Dale, the county building and planning department’s executive director, and Maj. Brad Burkhart, the chief deputy of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, both told the commissioners that leaders of the county probation department have approached them about finding office space in their respective buildings for probation officers.

The probation department is currently housed on the first floor of the Hancock County Courthouse. The department has added several new staffers in recent years to keep up with a growing number of probationers, while adding new rehabilitation programs to its offerings.

Had the referendum passed, the probation department would have moved into the basement of the current jail, once it was vacated. Its leaders are now shopping around for spots in other county-owned buildings to alleviate their space crunch, Dale and Burkhart told the commissioners.

Structural issues continue to plague the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office, which is housed in a historic building at 27 American Legion Place in Greenfield.

Pieces of the ceiling have started to fall, and recently a dead pigeon fell into an office along with a bit of drywall, Prosecutor Brent Eaton told the county council.

Hancock County Councilman Jim Shelby, during his board’s June meeting, suggested taking out a loan to cover some building maintenance and repairs, like fixing the courthouse roof and doing some renovation at the prosecutor’s office.

County leaders are allowed to bond up to $5 million to be paid for by a property tax increase without a referendum, according to state law.

Ray Richardson, the county’s attorney, told the commissioners during their meeting this week they would just need to pass a resolution of need — a formal document outlining what construction work needs to be done — in order for the council to move forward in the bond process.

“We’ve already got a $55-million resolution of need,” Commissioner Marc Huber remarked with a frustrated laugh.