Johnson County officials: current jail technology “on its last leg”

[Source: “Johnson County officials: current jail technology ‘on its last leg’,” Daily Iowan, 26 April 2013]

As the May 7 vote for a new Johnson County justice Center nears, county officials face yet another hurdle in the maltimillion-dollar project.

During a Thursday morning Board of Supervisors meeting, county facilities manager Eldon Slaughter and Chief Deputy Steve Dolezal said all of the approximately 80 jail inmates may need to be evacuated for an estimated 60 days because technological deficiencies plague the 32-year-old facility.

Slaughter said much of the jail, including its control center, uses 30-year-old technology, and it has become difficult to find replacement parts for doors, wiring, and operative valves.

“If the bond issue doesn’t go through, you’re going to have to get new upgrades or start from scratch,” he said. “We keep putting a Band-Aid on it; [the technology] is close to having run its course.”

Preliminary cost estimates from Slaughter in conjunction with Neumann Monson Architects’ Dwight Dobberstein revealed that a “low” figure of $1.56 million may be necessary to improve the jail’s control-center. The building’s 53 doors would cost approximately $7,300 and corresponding motors and parts are a roughly $5,200 investment.

Slaughter estimated an additional $200,000 for labor costs to alleviate the “copper spaghetti” of wires over a 60-day renovation period. He told supervisors that contractors from Chicago and Texas are visiting Iowa City soon to assess the repairs.

Dolezal said shipping inmates to facilities in Washington and Muscatine Counties would cost the county $45 a day per inmate plus transportation costs. He said the jail’s first floor could still be available for day-to-day operations and overnight holdings.

In discussions with Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig last week, he said the control center was “on its last leg.”

“The control center is the brain center of the [jail] hub,” Dolezal said. “If we’re going to shut this down, my best guess is that we can operate downstairs, but the next morning, we would have to transfer them to another county.”

Slaughter said even if the justice center proposal passes, the technological operations may continue to “limp along” for an additional three years before the new facility opens. He said a minimum of $250,000 would be spent to keep it operational.

The new justice center proposal needs approval of a $43.5 million bond issue to finance it. The original proposal didn’t garner enough votes to pass in November.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the newly revealed concerns further emphasize the need for upgraded operations.

“Vote for or against, the cost is not going down,” he said. “This would just add to the cost.”

Aleksey Gurtovoy, a local activist who opposes the current justice center plans, questioned the validity of the technology upgrades. He said he doesn’t understand why officials haven’t mentioned the large investment.

“My question is why is the sheriff just bringing this up now? This should have been communicated in discussions,” he said.

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