Madison County considers $18 million jail renovation

News-DemocratAugust 28, 2013 

— If it opened today, the Madison County Jail would not pass code inspection, according to architectural experts.

Architects from AAIC Inc. presented a needs-assessment study to the Building and Finance committees of the Madison County Board Wednesday.

The jail, which opened in 1980, was designed for 100 prisoners, but within a few years it was clearly overcrowded. Over the objections of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Madison County temporarily solved the problem with double bunks, Sheriff Bob Hertz said.

But that still wasn't enough, and eventually more cellblocks had to be added, increasing the jail to a capacity of 300 prisoners, still with double bunks.

Now the jail averages 252 prisoners on a given day; 268 as of Wednesday morning. But while they have more beds, other services such as the kitchen, infirmary and visiting area have not grown. The infrastructure is mostly four decades old, and verging on unsafe, according to AAIC.

The assessment proposed a major renovation that would upgrade electrical, plumbing, security and other infrastructure needs, as well as expanding the infirmary, visiting and booking areas.

Among the issues highlighted by AAIC:

* There are no sprinklers in most of the building, which does not meet the 2006 fire code currently adopted by Madison County. There is insufficient smoke evacuation equipment as well, and no fire separation in the attic.

* The flat roof has air-conditioning equipment wells that cause water to pool and leak through the roof.

* The plumbing is 35 years old, with microbial corrosion in copper pipes and water spraying onto steel cell walls with extensive rust.

* Aging sliding doors burn through their motors two to six times a year, at a replacement cost of more than $1,000 each time.

* The prisoners do much of the cleaning and all the laundry at the jail, but the venting in the laundry room is not approved for the industrial dryers and could be a fire hazard.

* The breakers are obsolete, which could cause serious dangers to workers repairing equipment, which AAIC architect Cal Morris called "a pretty grave concern."

* Equipment for everything from the electrical system to the showers is so obsolete that replacement parts can no longer be purchased.

* There is only one "sallyport" to bring a prisoner into the jail, and sometimes there are several police cars waiting for their turn. Hertz referred to it as "O'Hare Airport," with police cars circling and waiting in line to offload prisoners.

* In the infirmary, the two sick cells for ill inmates have been taken over by the need for more space, which means sick inmates remain in the general population and risk infecting an entire cellblock.

* The kitchen is overloaded with more than twice the prisoners for which it was designed. The freezer is a storage unit sitting in the parking lot.

AAIC proposed a three-phase renovation that would address the life-safety issues at the jail, redesign existing space for more efficient use, add a 12,452-square-foot addition for new sallyports and a larger booking area, and switching much of the jail's operation from electric to gas and more energy-efficient systems. That would lead to an estimated 20-percent reduction in energy costs and could allow the county to seek energy conservation bonds, Morris said.

One thing that is not in the $17.95 million price tag: more beds. Some board members questioned whether it was shortsighted not to add more cellblocks, given the history of growth. But Hertz said he doesn't think crime is going to rise enough in Madison County to require expanding the jail beyond its current capacity.

As it is, they have a system in place, he said: When the jail gets within 20 beds of its capacity, he calls State's Attorney Tom Gibbons and Chief Judge David Hylla, and they try to expedite some cases so the jail never goes over capacity.

"If we get over 300, we'll have prisoners sleeping on the floor and I guarantee we will get sued," Hertz said.

Morris said their design will allow the jail to be expanded in the future, but at the moment they need to bring it up to managing the 300 beds they currently have.

Originally county leaders had hoped to fund the project by renewing the existing jail bonds, which expire in 2015. But that will only get them about $6 million, Chairman Alan Dunstan said.

For the rest, they'll need to issue new bonds, which does not require a referendum as it is for jail construction, according to financial advisers from Stifel Nicolaus. However, if 10 percent of Madison County's registered voters signed a petition against it, the question would have to go to a voter's referendum.

Dunstan said they do not know how much the proposed bond issue would impact the tax rate, since property assessment growth is not yet known. But he said he intends to keep the county levy at an increase of no more than 4 percent. "We have the lowest tax levy increases of any government form and I want to keep it that way," Dunstan said.

Some county board members questioned whether the county could use some of its reserves for the project rather than borrowing the funds. County administrator Joe Parente said he would look into it, but was not sure those restricted reserves could be used for this purpose.

Dunstan also pointed out that similar issues exist at the old courthouse, and the county may have to consider renovations there as well.

The jail proposal will go to the full county board at its September meeting for a vote on its intent to seek the bonds. Then a public hearing would take place at the October meeting, with the final vote in November.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

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