Work Begins on Seward County Justice Center

SEWARD, Neb. — Work is officially underway on the new Seward County Justice Center, which will combine the county’s sheriff’s office, courts, attorney’s office, emergency dispatch center, public defender’s office and probation programs. The new $15 million facility may take up to two years to complete, but the county hopes to begin transferring inmates by the winter of 2017. Norfolk, Neb.-based construction firm Beckenhauer Construction Inc. began site work on the project June 30.

Comprising three levels, the new facility will stand to the west of the current facility, which will then be leveled to increase parking capacity. In addition to new kitchen, laundry, medical, control, and intake and booking areas, a total of 52 beds in steel detention cells will double the jail’s current housing capacity (from the current 26-bed capacity), and eliminate the need to house overflow inmates in neighboring counties — which has cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

Improved safety and security for both Seward County inmates and correctional staff was also a consideration in the new facility, which was designed to accommodate future expansions if necessary. Upon completion, it will bring the county into full compliance with both state and federal correctional standards.

The 44,000-square-foot facility required 36 bid packages, and was designed by Goldberg Group Architects of St. Joseph, Mo. In 2014, the firm estimated that designing, constructing and furnishing the facility would total roughly $12 million, but Commissioner Whitney Fleischman, chair of the county’s Justice Center Organizational Committee, told the Journal Star in June that labor costs have risen since the initial estimates. However, the added space could allow the county to house state inmates, helping to recoup some construction costs.

The design was developed following a feasibility study conducted by Goldberg Group Architects P.C. in 2014. The firm has specialized in criminal justice work for nearly three decades. Originally, the county had explored upgrades and an expansion to the existing 1970s-era justice facility, but found new construction was more cost-efficient and sensible from a construction standpoint. Additionally, expanding the facility would have required designers to place the jail cells on the floor above the courtroom, a layout which could severely impact court proceedings should inmates cause disruption or intentionally flood their cells.

Seward County officials have long tried to gain community support for the justice center project. Local voters rejected a 2008 referendum, and county commissioners were slow to warm to the project. Recently, however, the county board issued $10 million in bonds to support the center’s construction and design, which will be repaid through a property tax levy. Commissioners have also considered using a portion of the county’s inheritance tax proceeds, according to the Journal Star. The county approved the dual oblige bond with Beckenhauer Construction in early June.

Interested parties can follow construction progress via a workzone camera maintained by Goldberg Group Architects P.C.