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$150M jail ready to go

County lockup comes in on time and under budget

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The numbers begin to tell the story.

The new Greene County Sheriff’s Office and Jail, located at 5100 W. State Highway EE and spanning 23 acres, was dedicated May 13.

The jail itself is 327,000 square feet, plus an additional 62,000 square feet for the sheriff’s office that shares its building and a 27,000-square-foot building for training, evidence storage and vehicle modification, according to Capt. David Johnson, who served on the planning committee.

There are 1,242 beds, with land to expand. The old jail, still in use at 1010 N. Boonville Ave., currently houses about 800 inmates to be transferred within a month. The date of the transfer is a secret for security reasons, but in the days leading up to it, staff are being trained to function in the new space.

At the new facility, inmates are housed in one of 20 pods, each of which holds 24 to 56 people.

The price tag was $150 million, paid for through a half-cent sales tax approved by Greene County voters in 2017.

A closer look
One number Maj. Royce Denney appreciates is six. He has a window in the new facility – his first in six years.

He also likes the number 1 million. That’s how much the jail came in under budget – by $1 million. It was also on time.

Denney, who oversees jail operations, is also proud of the extra building that came out of the project – the training, evidence and quartermaster facility located behind the jail.

“We actually got a $6 million building for free, by the savings our advance team found during the construction project,” he said.

According to Sheriff Jim Arnott, COVID-19 didn’t hurt the jail’s bottom line.

“With COVID times and increased costs of things, we were able to buy stuff early enough that it didn’t affect too much of the overall cost,” he said.

Associated General Contractors of America reports material prices rose 20% between January 2021 and January 2022, with record increases throughout 2021. In a Springfield Business Journal interview with David Atkisson, Springfield office leader for jail contractor J.E. Dunn Construction Group Inc., he said, “The cost of this project today, I believe, could easily be 20% to 30% higher.”

Construction savings will be eclipsed by operational savings, with the sheriff’s office, jail and all employees under one roof.

“Instead of being on multiple floors, where we would have had to replicate staff, since the facility is spread out, we can use the indirect supervision model,” Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said following the dedication ceremony. “That actually saves about $95 million over 20 years.”

The sheriff is looking to hire 63 more people to staff the new jail, though he noted he has some solid applications in hand. Full staffing for jail and sheriff’s office combined is 621, according to Arnott. Pay starts at $20.70 per hour, with $2 extra per hour for night shift work and opportunities for overtime.

“We’ve been doing some really solid recruitment, and retention is up,” Arnott said.

The new jail offers face-to-face contact for sheriff’s office workers, Arnott said. Detectives will work next to the patrol division, with training right on the premises.

“That’s something we’ve never experienced,” he said. “We’ve always been envious of other departments that get to do everything together. Now, we’re going to be able to do that.”

Of the four years leading up to the project, planning took two years and construction took another two, and workers can still be seen working on punch list items throughout the site.

In addition to J.E. Dunn Construction, DeWitt & Associates Inc. also served as general contractor for the project, which was designed by nForm Architecture LLC, according to past SBJ reporting. Engineers included Mettemeyer Engineering LLC, structural; TreanorHL Inc. (Lawrence, Kansas), civil; and Imeg Corp., mechanical, electrical and plumbing.

A staff project leadership team with 19 members since the start of the project included Johnson, who was on the project from the start.

“Capt. Johnson has been involved in every single detail – the colors on the walls, the colors of the desks, the colors of the carpet,” Denney said.

Denney said Johnson even counted the plants in the landscaping and made sure the numbers were exactly what taxpayers paid for.

A commemorative program for the cornerstone ceremony credits 11 commissioners, 72 design, construction and trade partners, and numerous judges and officeholders for their contributions to the project.

Jail population
There are ready statistics on incarceration numbers, and they’re an interesting study – yet Arnott cautions against making predictions based on past years.

“It does not mean anything,” he said, referring to incarceration stats.

Still, figures show a trend toward an increased jail population, rising 69% from an annual average of 560 prisoners a decade ago to 948 in 2021.

Interestingly, bookings have declined 39% in a decade, from 19,733 in 2012 to 12,112 in 2021. Not every person who is booked goes to jail; some bail out or are released on their own recognizance.

Arnott noted a rise in violent crime is a cause for concern. Springfield Police Department’s 2020 Crime Report, based on numbers from the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System, showed 25,458 total offenses, including 5,840 crimes against persons, 16,861 crimes against property and 2,757 crimes against society. In 2020, the city recorded 15,043 crimes for every 100,000 in population.

“One of our largest numbers in jail is assaults,” he said.

Average length of stay has been tracked since 2015, and sheriff’s office figures show that was 25 days in that year, but more than doubled that length in 2020, at 57 days. A decline to 43 days was noted in 2021, when COVID-19 put a divot in a lot of bell curves.

Arnott figures he runs one of the largest restaurants in town, serving 800 meals to inmates three times a day.

He also has a laundry, general store, transportation system and medical clinic, including what he said is one of the largest mental health facilities in the state.

“You talk about a business,” he said, noting his operating budget is generally in the $37 million range.

Denney and Johnson have given numerous tours of the new jail, including walk-throughs following the dedication ceremony.

“We want everyone to see,” Denney said.

“We want to show where their tax dollars are going. People don’t realize how nice this facility is. They think their loved one is going to some ‘dungeonous’ jail. It’s not like that.”

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