A new jail?

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board of Commissioners heard a hypothetical layout for a new county jail at its meeting Tuesday.

Karin Cooper of U.P. Engineers & Architects presented floor plans as part of a feasibility study approved by the board in May on building a new jail behind the courthouse. The study assumed a jail population of 60 to 70 beds built on the footprint of the current courthouse parking deck.

“The space is available, but it’s also very narrow for what we’re trying to achieve,” Cooper said.

In the proposed layout, the control room would be located on the east side of the first floor, giving direct supervision over the maximum-security cells, holding cells and the observation cells. Medium-security cells have a medium level of supervision, with no direct supervision of minimum-security levels.

Based on the proposed plan, prisoners would be brought in through a sallyport security gate on the garage on the west end; booking is located in the middle, while holding cells are adjacent to the control room.

The plan does have drawbacks, Cooper said. Building a jail on the parking deck footprint only allows for minimal administrative space on the first floor. Most of it is on the second floor, which would be accessed in two ways: the existing stairwell on the west side, and a stairwell that would be built on the east end.

“If there’s any kind of risk situation going on in the jail area, all your support is upstairs,” she said.

Cooper said prisoners would either be brought up to the district court through the elevator on the west side or another one that could be built on the east end of the jail.

“At some point, there will be a cross between the prisoner and the public … it’s just a matter of minimizing it,” she said.

Cooper stressed the project is still incomplete; remaining tasks include a cost estimate and an artist’s rendering. She plans to send it to the Michigan Department of Corrections for additional feedback.

Sheriff Brian McLean said Cooper had discussed the plan with him and his staff.

“For the space that she has there, she did a nice job,” he said. “It’s coming along.”

Commissioner Scott Ala suggested creating a five-year jail construction plan that might insulate the county from potential lawsuits. Other commissioners said the five-year plan may be worth looking into once Cooper finishes her work.

The county has made several attempts to build a new jail. The most recent proposal was in 2010, when voters defeated a proposal for a 110-bed jail, sheriff’s department and district court on land west of the courthouse.

In other action, the board:

voted down $1,000 in funding for the RSVP electronic recycling program. The vote was split 2-2; Chair Albert Koskela and Commissioner Tom Tikkanen voted against it, while Commissioners Scott Ala and Anton Pintar voted to support it. Commissioner Tim Palosaari, who also performs electronic recycling, abstained from the vote. Commissioners had discussed whether it was necessary to support RSVP given other available alternatives, including Palosaari and the Goodwill recycling center.

approved a three-year bid from Rukkila, Negro and Associates for annual audits of Houghton County.

approved purchasing two tax-foreclosed properties through the Houghton County Land Bank Authority.

approved a proposed budget for Tri-County Community Corrections.

approved a letter for support for a bill that would allow land banks to hold only one round of auctions.