McLean County Selects Architect for Jail Expansion

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — After reviewing bids from six architectural firms, McLean County, Ill., officials have selected architecture and engineering firm The Farnsworth Group of Normal, Ill. The firm will also be working with global architecture firm HOK to design the community’s $45 million jail expansion project in Bloomington. The project will focus on improving general population capacity, increasing housing for female inmates and on expanding and improving mental health services. The new addition will be located to the east of the existing facility, which currently serves as a parking lot.

County officials first approved the project in 2015. County Administrator Bill Wasson told local news source The Pantagraph earlier this month that the design phase will last approximately one year. Construction bids will likely be advertised in the winter of 2016, with construction beginning in 2017. Farnsworth Group has a $3.4 million design contract and has estimated that the construction process will take roughly 30 months, according to The Pantagraph.

Currently, female inmates are housed in an aging portion of the McLean County Jail, which offers inadequate heating and supervision challenges. Once the expansion is complete, female inmates will be housed in the new space, which will also include a dedicated mental health unit. In total, the addition will add 134 new beds, and will also increase space for other medical services.

Addressing the mental health needs of McLean County inmates was first raised in 2012 by then Sheriff Mike Emery who requested a federal review, according to The Pantagraph. The resulting National Institute of Corrections report provided a number of recommendations for jail improvements, foremost a change to the county’s practice of holding mentally ill inmates in the jail’s booking area.

McLean County Board member John McIntyre noted at a September 2015 board meeting that 29 percent of jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, and that mental health services in the community are lacking. "This is about more than housing people who have broken the law. We are trying to develop a mental health system for the whole community and the jail is just part of the plan," McIntyre said at the September 2015 board meeting.

The county initially worked with Dewberry and Associates of Peoria, Ill., to develop four possible jail plans, and later with Dewberry and Mark Goldman & Associates, a justice facility planning firm based in Atlanta, to specifically address projected capacity needs and housing deficiencies for mentally ill inmates, according to The Pantagraph.