By Vinde Wells
Ogle County officials said last week that building a new county jail on South Sixth Street in Oregon has been part of the long range plan for several years.
Kim Gouker told a crowd of more than 30 in Forreston that the Sixth Street property was purchased with the intention that a jail would go there at some point.
The county board purchased and then razed five houses on east half of the 100 block of South Sixth Street in 2006, after completing the new judicial center in Fifth Street the previous year.
The purchase was made, Gouker said, “with the idea of possibly building the jail there. We wanted to maintain the efficiency we had already built in there [in the judicial center].”
Gouker, Long Range Planning Committee Chairman Don Griffin, and Sheriff Brian VanVickle made the fifth of seven presentations about the proposed jail March 2 at the Forreston Public Library.
The final two presentations were scheduled for March 7 in Mt. Morris and March 9 at the Oregon Coliseum.
Gouker recounted the history of the county’s long range planning which has included several building and remodeling projects.
The Long Range Planning Committee was formed in 1998, he said, to come up with an organized approach to capital projects.
“We came up with a five-step plan that we took to the board in 2000,” said Gouker, who chaired the first Long Range Planning Committee.
The county board earmarked the money from host fees, which have a duration of 20 to 40 years, for building and development projects, rather than adding it to the General Fund.
That way building projects like the jail, which will cost an estimated $25 to $28 million, would not come from real estate tax revenues.
Host fees are paid by garbage hauling companies to dump waste in the county’s two landfills, one at Davis Junction and the other near Rochelle.
The first step, Gouker said, was to tear down four county annex buildings in the 100 block of South Fifth Street to make way for the judicial center. The county also bought and remodeled a building on Pines Road in Oregon to relocate the departments displaced from the annex buildings.
The new judicial center came next in 2005, then the courthouse, built in 1891, was remodeled into county administrative offices in 2010, and the new public safety complex, three blocks away on First Street, for the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices was completed in 2015.
“The jail is the final step,” Gouker said.
VanVickle said initially he was not keen on South Sixth Street as the site for the new jail.
“At first I was adamant that the jail would be next to the sheriff’s office,” he said.
That was until he learned that building it there would increase the costs by at least 20 percent due to poor soil compaction.
Griffin said that site is not large enough because the jail would have to be all on one story due because the soil with not support more than that.
Also, he said construction crews discovered several underground “surprises” while building the public safety complex.
VanVickle said the South Sixth Street location offers the most efficiency for getting prisoners to their court appearances.
“It allows us to directly transport prisoners from the jail to the courtrooms,” he said.
A concept design approved by the county board in November calls for closing the 100 block of South Sixth Street and connecting the jail to the judicial center via a large sally port.
The county board has requested that the Oregon City Council close the street, but no decision has been made.
Locating the jail farther away from the judicial center will mean more cost to taxpayers, VanVickle said, because more vehicles and employees will be necessary for transporting them.
He estimated the additional cost at $300,000 per year.
VanVickle said the new building will be designed in the same architectural style as the judicial center and will look like an office building.
In fact, it won’t even be officially known as a jail — directional signs will carry a different name.
“We’re not going to call this a jail,” Gouker said. “We’re going to call it the Judicial Center Annex.”
Almost no opposition to the project or its location was voiced by the Forreston audience.
The only dissension came from a man who objected to spending money on a jail, rather than mental health programs and facilities, which he said would better serve the needs of the public.
Several neighbors have voiced opposition to having the jail so close to their homes. Other Oregon residents have said they don’t want the jail so close to the downtown.
Ogle County jails have been on the courthouse square, a block away from the South Sixth Street site since 1841.