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Johnson County closer to new jail site

BY SCOTT RAYNOR | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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Johnson County officials took another step toward a decision concerning a new jail facility on Wednesday evening.

After months of discussion about possible sites for the jail, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee voted to recommend a study comparing a combined facility downtown or transforming the building used by the Press-Citizen into a jail house.

“This new thing opened up in the Press-Citizen, and we have lost close to nine months because of this split,” said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. “We need to decide, do we continue to look forward to more time, or not.”

The $10,000 to $15,000 study will directly compare the two sites by the cost per square foot; it would take 30 to 45 days to complete.

Officials have debated whether a brand-new, combined facility — featuring both a courthouse and jail — would be a better option than converting the Press Citizen building.

Committee member and Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion raised the issue of rezoning. If the Press-Citizen property is bought, officials would need to rezone the area in order to use the building as a jail.

“I am not so sure that is going to happen,” Champion said.

The Press Citizen building became an alternative to the previously proposed joint justice center months ago.

The joint site has the advantage of increased security, as prisoners would be transported between rooms inside one facility. Some county officials said they believe this would result in lower operating costs, as the transfer of paperwork and prisoners would require less employee hours.

“We have been discussing this over and over again,” said Supervisor Sally Stutsman, and she is glad they are finally moving forward with the issue.

The possibility of pursuing a jail at the Press-Citizen building has divided community officials, and the drawn-out debate about a possible study has added to officials’ frustrations.

“Could I be blunt about something?” Champion said. “When we made the decision to do [the justice center] downtown that seemed pretty final to me. This is just prolonging the decision to get the job done.”

The Board of Supervisors will make a final decision on whether to commission the study at its Oct. 15 meeting.

However, the supervisors have the authority to open debate on the Press Citizen location again, or they can present other options. Stutsman said she would favor a third option — a joint justice center built in the Press Citizen building.


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