Enclosed for the winter

Published 10:32 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

With windows installed and the building sealed for the winter, crews are turning their focus to the inside of the new Mower County Jail and Justice Center.

“Right now it’s all the rough ends that needed to be done so we can start getting the final touches and the enclosures in,” said Rich Reding, project superintendent with Knutson Construction Services.

About 50 to 60 construction workers are working on the project each day, and the number is increasing daily, Reding said.

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The more than 70 cells and 128 beds of the jail are divided among three pods: two pods for indirect supervision and a third for general population — direct supervision.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said the pods are designed through a system of reward and punishment.

The pods are designed to separate prisoners based on their needs and behavior, said Jail Administrator Bob Roche.

The two indirect supervision cells are split into about five separate units to keep differently classified prisoners apart, Roche said.

For example, prinoners on work release would be in a different unit than sex offenders.

When necessary, there are separate 23-1 cells, where an inmate is confined to a cell for 23 hours and is only allowed to leave he cell an hour each day, Oscarson said.

“In a jail you probably have a multitude of classifications,” Oscarson said. “It’s not like the old days where you throw everyone in an open cell.”

The jail and justice center is schedule to be completed by July of 2010, but may not open until a few months later, so staff are properly trained before the jail opens, Oscarson said.


Crews are working on a lot of the ceiling work in the two indirect supervision pods. Along with installing sprinklers and the duct work, the crews will soon begin working on things like installing the toilets, sinks and beds, which all need to be welded in place.

The cells are beginning to take shape as the walls and door frames to some cells are in place. The 7-by-10 cells will house two inmates. In other places the steel door frames — which will be filled with cement once they are in place — are stacked leaning against the walls.

There will be handicapped cells about double the size of regular cells, Roche said.

While much of the project is still raw construction, the face of the interior is slowly taking shape. By the end of the week, work could begin to paint the inside of cells, Reding said.

Oscarson said the jail will take up about three-fourths of the building. The two-story jail will be split into three pods located along the west side of the building.

The pod at the southwest corner of the building is slated to be indirect supervision cells for female prisoners, Roche said.

A nearly identical pod for male inmates is positioned north of the first pod. However, that could change depending on the number of female inmates.

Between the indirect supervision pods, there will be male and female locker rooms for inmates allowed to leave on work release.

A jailer station will be enclosed behind break proof glass in each pod. The cement base to the jailer station in the southern pod corner is in place, as is the framing for the break proof glass that will enclose the jailer station.

The jailer station is located at the center of the pod so the jailers can indirectly monitor the each of the five different cell units and the dayrooms in each direction for the secure desk.

“Visually, you can see everything, but what you’ll see here is the jailers not face to face, body to body with the inmates,” Oscarson said.

Jailers stations that can view all the units reduce the number of staff members needed, Roche said.

A third pod for general population is on the northwest corner of the building. This pod is larger and has a larger dayroom since the prisoners aren’t split into different units.

The jailer station isn’t enclosed by break proof behind glass like the indirect supervision pods. Oscarson said this direct supervision is believed to be safer because it allows jailers to respond faster to altercations.

Each of the three pods includes showers, exercise rooms and other amenities so inmates don’t commonly leave their pods: “Once they’re brought into the cell area here they don’t have to be taken out,” Reding said.

For example, meals will be brought to inmates in the cell pods. Prisoners won’t even leave to see visitors, as there will be video conferencing stations in the pods for inmates to communicate with visitors in a video station located near the main entrance.


A corridor will dissect the jail from north to south, separating the cells on the west from the laundry and kitchen to the east.

All doorways between the east and west portions pass through the corridor. That corridor will be monitored from the desk located near the main entrance by the large windows on the south side of the building.

Oscarson described the area around that desk as the brain of the building. Tentacles of piping currently extend from the unfinished floor for all wires to one day connect to computers and camera monitors.

Crews are finishing laying cement on the kitchen and laundry side of the building. About four feet of piping extends from the floors to give a sense of where the walls will go up. Reding said workers will be laying brick for a while yet.

A secure elevator in the laundry and kitchen area will be used to bring inmates to the courtrooms.

Along with the three court rooms, the upper level of the building will house the office for the county attorney, correctional services and court administration. The block work on the second floor is nearly complete, and some dry walling has been started.


The county designed the building for easy expansion. An area of land on the north end of the justice center will be set aside for grass now, but it could be the center for expansion in the future.

An additional two pods could be built in the future. The kitchen and laundry areas were built larger so additional equipment to house up to 248 inmates if two more pods were ever added.

While there are no plans for expansion, Oscarson said it’s much cheaper to buy already own the land and have the building planned for expansion.

The county attorney’s offices at the northeast side of the building are larger than necessary. That was done to make space for a fourth court room, as the offices are dimensionally the same size as a court room, Oscarson said.

If future expansion were ever necessary, the office would be remodeled into a court room, and a new section for the building would be added on to the north for a new county attorney’s office to be built.

Oscarson said other counties recently faced high costs of expanding because their facilities weren’t planned for expansion. These measures save on higher future costs.

“I think the board did the right thing by planning for the future and hope it never comes,” Oscarson said. “You’re going to have a downtown green area, maybe a park for a while — maybe forever.”

The offices for the Austin Police Department, Mower County Sheriff’s Department and dispatch will remain in the Mower County Government Center.

Knutson Construction Services is the main contractor for the project along with more than 30 total contractors.

The building is weather enclosed for the winter, as much of the exterior work is finished.

“I feel real comfortable with the job, how it’s moving and the progress,” Reding said. “There’s areas we’re a little behind. Some areas we’re ahead on.”

Construction on the Mower County Jail and Justice will be constricted to inside the building for the rest of the winter.