Construction of a new facility to house the Palo Alto County Jail, Palo Alto County 911 Communication Center, Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office and Palo Alto County Emergency Management has been in the works for many years. March 2, 2021 will allow the citizens of Palo Alto County to determine if all the work and planning will continue. March 2, 2021 has been set by the Board of Supervisor’s as the date for the special election; bond referendum, to move forward with the construction of the Palo Alto County Public Safety Center.
The current structure housing the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s office, Jail and Communication Center was constructed in 1908. The Sheriff of Palo Alto County lived in the structure when it was first constructed. So, in essence, the current jail which is 112 years old, and the repurposed house, which now comprises the Communication Center, Jail Booking Room, Jail Kitchen, and Information Technologies (IT) rooms, is outdated and not safe. This structure was never intended to and does not meet the demands of today’s jail standards and communication demands.
As of 2020, only two other facilities in Iowa were older than ours. Age alone does not disqualify a structure from serving a useful purpose. However, structure condition, current demands, state regulation, and liability issues do play a role.
How did we arrive at the point we are right now with this potential new structure? In March of 2017 I had a serious conversation with Delbert Longley, the State of Iowa Jail inspector. Mr. Longley and I discussed our past jail inspections; which occur annually, future projections and issues with our current facility. I continued to update the building as much as possible, as is done yearly, and evaluate our current facility and future needs.
In October of 2018, I requested Mr. Longley speak with our Board of Supervisor’s and update them on the status, condition and projection of our facility. I felt it was my duty as Sheriff to bring my concerns forward and address the security, safety, liability and future direction of the Sheriff’s Office, Jail and Communication Center. After that meeting it was apparent that our structure was in such a condition as to warrant further investigation.
After research, consultation and interviews, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisor’s signed a contract on July 23, 2019 with Midwest Construction Consultants. John Hansen; owner of the company, was contracted to do a facility evaluation and needs assessment. As John began collecting information and compiling data, he too suggested the formation of a Building Committee as an independent group to evaluate the data collected and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
On October 24, 2019 the first meeting was held with the Building Committee with representatives from all parts of Palo Alto County. This group was offered tours of the current facilities to see firsthand my concerns of our existing structure. Information was shared with them concerning the facilities evaluation and needs assessment as they were completed. In December of 2019 the committee agreed that architectural firms should be solicited and interviewed and on March 24, 2020 the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisor’s signed a contract with Rick Weidner to be the architect for this project.
COVID entered the scene at this point but work continued on this project. Phone calls, emails and zoom meetings were the norm. After an initial design, many discussions and design changes, the Building Committee approved a design concept and an estimate of probable cost on September 21, 2020. The following day the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors approved the same design and estimate of probable cost.
The facility would consist of a modern 18 bed jail with expansion capabilities, 911 Communication Center, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management Office and State Probation facilities. The name of the facility would be the Palo Alto County Public Safety Center. The estimate of probable cost is 5.625 million dollars.
The approval of the estimate of probable cost came with the request to seek funding to repay the bonds that did not include a tax increase for the construction project. The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisor’s have chosen to finance the Public Safety Center with TIF funds generated from the wind turbine farm in the northeast part of Palo Alto County. Yes, this means the Palo Alto County Public Safety Center can and will be built and financed without a tax increase.
Palo Alto County is in a unique position to construct a modern facility that will address our existing structural conditions, meet current demands, state regulation, and liability issues for many years to come. This can all be achieved with utilizing some of the revenue generated from the wind turbine project and not cause an increase in taxes.
Your vote needs to be heard on this project. March 2, 2021 has been set as the date for an election; bond referendum, on the question of entering into a loan agreement and issuing bonds for the purpose of undertaking the project for construction, to furnish and equip the Palo Alto County Public Safety Center.
Additional information will be provided over the next few months concerning various aspects of this project. The intent is to provide the information needed for each of you to make an informed vote.
Happy New Year!
Sheriff Lynn J Schultes