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New jail site sparks debate

BY SCOTT RAYNOR | AUGUST 21, 2009 7:07 AM

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors debated a proposed new site for a Johnson County Justice Center on Thursday — the building housing the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

The area, which is for sale, would be a separate and much cheaper facility than building a Justice Center near the current courthouse and jail.

“It is a great big open space that would be very conducive to remodel how you want,” said Johnson County Supervisor Sally Stutsman.

The supervisors had previously considered a Justice Center, a joint facility with the courthouse atop the jail, but the Press-Citizen site would house only the jail, potentially making operations difficult.

A joint building would solve the problem of lengthy prisoner transfers between the jail and courthouse and help simplify paperwork, the supervisors said.

But debate Thursday centered on cost.

The estimated price tag of the joint facility was estimated at roughly $60 million, though Stutsman said the study that produced the number was “poorly done.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he was disappointed the decision between a joint facility and the Press-Citizen building was becoming a issue of finances instead of quality.

The joint facility was not intended to be cheap, he said, but to solve the problem of overcrowding at the jail and courthouse while making communication less costly.

“The cheapest thing to do is to leave it as is,” he said.

Supervisor Larry Meyers said the supervisors have an obligation to be “fiscally responsible” and should at least consider moving to the Press-Citizen building.

Supervisor Pat Harney said the Press-Citizen building became a possible site for the detention center when the real-estate agent selling the property contacted him.

Harney smiled and said he took credit for “creating this mess.”

The supervisors will decide whether to hire a contractor to compare the two proposed sites at next week’s meeting.


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