Warren County Renews Efforts to Fund Jail, Courthouse Construction

WARREN COUNTY, Iowa — Undeterred by the failure of a first jail and courthouse construction referendum in May 2016, Warren County officials have assembled several firms in anticipation of a second referendum in the near future.

The county has selected architecture firm Shive-Hattery, with a local office in West Des Moines, Iowa, to design the jail and adjacent justice facility, and will also work with commercial construction firm The Samuels Group, based in Wausau, Wis., and Des Moines, Iowa-based construction management firm DCI Group Inc. Speaking with the Des Moines Register, Warren County Supervisor Crystal McIntyre said that the construction firms will help manage a successful second referendum effort and could potentially be selected to coordinate and manage the eventual construction process.

Warren County residents voted 1,412 to 1,040 against the construction of a new $35 million jail facility, despite the fact that a jail inspector told correctional officials in 2015 that the facility should be closed due to poor conditions, overcrowding and safety concerns. The recommendation to close the jail came shortly after the escape of two inmates.

Plans outlined in the original referendum called for the existing jail to close in 2018, when the proposed 96,500-square-foot replacement facility would be set to open. The planned three-level justice center and courthouse portion of the project would be a significant improvement on the current structure, which was temporarily closed twice in 2015 due to water and gas leaks. The new facility would feature six courtrooms, clerk and administrative offices, secure holding areas and public spaces across an estimated 50,000 square feet.

Located adjacent to the justice center, a new single-story jail would span an estimated 46,000 square feet and accommodate seven different levels of inmate classification. It would also include an intake area, laundry and kitchen as well as a dedicated area for 911 communications.

Prior to the first referendum, a judicial committee composed of local officials and citizen representatives considered several alternatives to new construction, including renovation and full closure. Jail renovation was quickly taken off the table as the existing facility is already severely undersized and regularly holds more than double its 18-inmate capacity. In May 2016, Warren County Sheriff Brian Vos told the Des Moines Register that the county pays approximately $100,000 annually to house inmates in other nearby facilities, costing county taxpayers more in the long run than the new price of new construction.