Supervisors approve property purchases for Justice Center

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to purchase three properties near the Johnson County Jail they hope will eventually be home to a new criminal-justice center.

The supervisors agreed to purchase 514 and 520 S. Capitol St. and 4 E. Prentiss St. for nearly $1.1 million.

“This is good news,” said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil.

Talk of creating a criminal-justice center is not something new for the area. County officials have been discussing the project for the past 10 years as a means of addressing space, safety, and security issues at the jail and the courthouse, Neuzil said.

The supervisors approved the purchase of 504 and 510 S. Capitol St. and 7 E. Harrison St. in 2009, Neuzil said. Now, the county will have control of six of the seven properties across from the jail and near the courthouse. Officials are in the process of acquiring the final property.

The potential addition would expand the two entities, both of which have dealt with, and continue to experience overcrowding, said Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness.

The proposed justice center would also address the $1 million spent annually to house inmates outside Johnson County, Lyness said.

Neuzil said purchasing the property is the first step for the proposed justice center. Step two involves acquiring Harrison Street property from the city, he said.

The jail is blocked from expanding on three sides and can’t add stories, which leaves the county few options other than building across the street. But that, combined with the difficulty of acquiring adjacent property, has brought the county into dispute with the University of Iowa.

County officials attempted to purchase the parking lot to the north of the jail, owned by the University of Iowa, in 2006. UI officials sent county officials a letter saying they decided not to sell the lot.

The existing jail is built for 46 people but regularly houses around 90 inmates. Between 70 and 80 prisoners are sent to neighboring counties because of overcrowding.

“You’re talking about a county that has not kept up, public-safety-wise, with the growth that the rest of the county has enjoyed,” Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek told the DI in May 2009.

Though no specific plans have been drawn up, general conceptual plans are projected to cost around $50 million, Neuzil said.

Funding the project is another task the supervisors needs to tackle, he said. The county will likely begin polling the public within the next several months to determine how much support the supervisors receive, he said.

“We’re going to have to think outside the box,”he said.

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