Metro-East News

County jails need upgrades, but voters won't approve the money. Here's what's being done.

Madison and St. Clair counties embark on jail renovation projects

Madison and St. Clair counties are both working on improvement projects on their jails, which both need plenty of work. Madison County is planning a multi-million dollar project, while St. Clair County's project is relatively small.
Up Next
Madison and St. Clair counties are both working on improvement projects on their jails, which both need plenty of work. Madison County is planning a multi-million dollar project, while St. Clair County's project is relatively small.

Madison County will soon undertake a multimillion-dollar jail renovation project while its neighbors to the south in St. Clair County continue to feel the pain of a defeated 2017 sales tax proposal.

Both counties aimed for but missed renovation money in recent years, with Madison County asking voters to approve more than $18 million in government bond sales in 2013. St. Clair County voters in 2014 and again in 2017 considered a sales tax hike that would have generated $22 million every year for jail renovations and public safety.

Madison County’s proposal didn’t make it past voters, and after voting no to a sales tax increase in 2014, St. Clair County voters again shot down the proposal by a more than 10,000-vote margin in 2017.

But the jails continued aging as the debate on how to fix them up continued. The St. Clair County Jail was built in the 1970s, followed by two expansions in 1988 and 1995, and the Madison County Jail was finished in 1980.

Madison County, however, will soon approve money for the initial phase of their jail renovation project. Instead of buying $18 million in government bonds, the county plans to pay for the first phase out of money already in its coffers, said Madison County Treasurer Chris Slusser. County committees considered the base bid this month and plan to continue the discussions, according to Rob Schmidt, director of Madison County Facilities.

St. Clair County, meanwhile, continues to undertake minor projects as it can afford them, Sheriff Rick Watson said.

Here are the details of each county’s jail projects:

Madison County Jail

  • $7.9 million base bid from Plocher Construction with a $13.1 million possible total construction cost based on additional services;

  • The project would be paid for over a four-year period from 2018 to 2021;

  • The base bid would include electric and plumbing improvements, installation of a fire suppression system, new mechanical room, roofing in certain areas, painting, door replacement, new water line service and sewer mains, replacing the accessible parking lot, and work on three cell blocks. The costlier additions would include work on more cell blocks;

  • The project does not expand capacity but modernizes the facility;

  • Funds would be transferred into the Capital Projects Fund from the General Fund as needed, the treasurer said. The Capital Projects Fund had a current balance of $11.2 million as of mid-April, Slusser said.

St. Clair County Jail

  • Plans to spend $207,994 total, including contingency, on minor renovations. The cost could be less depending on final work completed, according to James Brede, Director of Buildings;

  • Work includes renovating an upstairs space formerly used as a superintendent's apartment into offices for the Drug Tactical Unit;

  • Work should be completed in May, according to Brede;
  • Fairview Heights-based IMPACT Strategies, Inc. will perform the renovations along with design services from Fairview Heights-based EWR Architects;
  • The next project slated for the jail is new plumbing in 2019, according to the sheriff.

Improvements at the St. Clair County facility will be done as part of a five-year program, the sheriff said. The Public Building Commission is working on developing priorities on that plan of what needs to be done sooner and what can be held off until later.

"We were looking for jail expansion, but that didn't happen," the director of buildings said. "We need to address some of the issues with it being a 50 year-old building — electrical, plumbing, a lot of things need to be upgraded. In the next five years we're going to try to go after some of those projects. It's always hard to do in a full jail but we're going to work and come up with a plan."

“We are making improvements to the jail that are overdue and well needed,” Watson said. “We’re doing everything in phases. When you don’t have a lot of money, you do things a little bit at a time.”

Major renovations and expansion needed at the jail will have to wait, Watson said.

"There are certain projects that will cost several millions of dollars and it's going to probably going to take a sales taxes to get that done or several years of saving," Watson said.

In Madison County, the treasurer says he’s glad taxpayers won’t have to pay for $18 million in bonds.

“I think if you look at the borrowing costs, they would have driven up the price over the life of the bonds. It could’ve added another $5 to $7 million in borrowing costs,” Slusser said. “$18 million would have been more like $25 million.”

A 10 percent contingency cost could drive the lowest base bid up to $14.5 million, according to estimates from Schmidt, the director of Madison County Facilities.

Money for the first phase still needs to make its way through committees before going before the County Board, but Schmidt says he believes the base bid from Poettker Construction is “extremely competitive” and recommends county leaders move forward with it.

St. Clair County’s Public Building Commission will consider money for the jail project at its meeting Thursday.