Bonding tour looks at court, jail needs

Above: Martin County Sheriff, Jeff Markquart, guides members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee through the narrow hallways of the law enforcement center on Wednesday.

FAIRMONT– On Wednesday the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee toured the Martin County Courthouse, law enforcement center and jail. During the tour, local leaders had the opportunity to share why the county is requesting $18.4 million in the 2022 legislative session for the proposed Public Safety and Justice Center.

State representatives, Bjorn Olson and Julie Rosen were present, along with County Attorney, Terry Viesselman, Judge Michael Trushenski, members of the Martin County Sheriff’s office and the Martin County Commissioners.

The new facility would house the county sheriff and city police, law enforcement operations including dispatch and emergency management services. It would also include courtrooms, court services, victim services, a behavioral health unit and a 50-bed jail.

Sheriff Jeff Markquart explained that when the key was turned on the current law enforcement building in 1974, it was going to be a 25 year building.

“At the end of 25 years, we were supposed be looking at doing something. Here we are 45 years later,” he said.

Chief Deputy Corey Klanderud said he has an article that was in the Sentinel in the early 2000s that lists challenges the jail was facing.

“In 2006 they started a justice committee to look at the feasibility of a new facility and that worked through 2007 but it was deemed too costly at the time,” Klanderud said.

He said it was set aside and 10 years later, it was picked up again.

Klanderud said this time around, they started working on the project at the end of 2016. A survey was given to all departments in Martin County to determine their needs for the next 40 years. Since then a bonding committee and justice center committee have been working on the project.

“Our survey and our committees that have been working on this for multiple years have found that for the money, the best option is to start from scratch and build something that’s compliant with the new rules and designed with the new features so that we can go forward for the next 40 years,” Klanderud said.

A packet was given out to those at the tour that highlights some of the safety and security issues inside the facility. Markquart also said that since 1974, a lot of mandates have changed.

“We’re trying to do our best to make things work. It seems all we’ve been doing is putting a bandaid on it,” he said.

“Infrastructure is only designed to last only so long. We’re not a normal business building where we’re only here one shift a day. We’re here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s always people working and everything is being used. Stuff deteriorates faster,” Klanderud said.

He said everything is built into the walls so remodeling isn’t an option. He also pointed out that they’re land-locked with Lake Sisseton behind them so it’s hard to re-build.

“Right now we’re spending money to house people in other counties. We’re spending money daily on plumbing and electrical, bringing them in to fix our old facility,” Klanderud said.

On average, they spend between $80,000 and $100,000 in transports every year.

“A lot of the transports are to take inmates to other counties for housing so we also have to pay for housing,” Klanderud said.

He clarified that a transport could be done because there’s no space locally, or because the Department of Corrections requirement to keep inmates here can’t be met. The current jail design doesn’t allow them to house females, juveniles or maximum security inmates.

Klanderud said they spend quite a lot in gas mileage to bring inmates to and from medical appointments and court hearings. They’ll transport to Nobles, Faribault or Scott county.

Markquart pointed out that there’s more to it than just the lack of space in the jail. He said there’s no closet to even store a folding chair.

“We’re running out of space. We’ve outgrown this building,” Markquart said.

Klanderud shared that law enforcement isn’t the only department that’s experienced growth. He said the county attorney’s office, victim witness and probation department have all grown.

In addition to space, safety and security is a big concern, for staff, county employees and inmates.

“We have to escort our inmates out of jail, up to the courtroom. That’s a huge liability risk for the inmates and staff,” Klanderud said.

He also said that while the courtroom is a beautiful room, it’s not secure. There is no holding room and no screening. The open rotunda on the third floor is also a a safety and security concern.

The parking lot has been an issue of conversation for many years and most recently, the need for a kitchen and food services.

The current law enforcement center is 44,000 sq. ft, not including the courtroom. The proposed facility is 71,000 sq. ft, which would equal about an additional 25,000 sq. ft.

Klanderud said if don’t get any money from the state, the burden on the taxpayers will be too high to justify the whole project.

“We have to do something. If we get no money, we’ll still need a new jail and sheriff’s office facility, but it won’t include the full project of the court and probation and court administration,” Klanderud said.

Martin County Commissioner, Kathy Smith, said “There’s a big demand for bonding dollars in the state. You have to get buy in from these committees to move your project forward. It is a bid deal to have them come, both the house and the senate.”

Smith said the Martin County Commissioners are aware that something needs to be done, but they’re also conscious of property tax increases and she said they work hard to keep the levy down.

Klanderud said they’ve tried to educate groups in the public and have given tours to different service clubs and church groups.

“It’s a beautiful courthouse, it really looks nice here, but you need to get inside to really see what’s going on,” Markquart said.

In 2019 both the senate and house committees toured the facility and granted Martin County $2.1 million, which went toward the planning, designing and site development of the proposed Justice Center.

Markquart said they have a site picked out along Center Creek Drive in Fairmont. The committees will continue to plan for the proposed Justice Center, but whether the county receives any money from the state remains to be seen.

Capital Investment committee chairman representative, Fou Lee of Minneapolis, said their Wednesday tour in Fairmont was stop three of five. He said for them the tour is the first step of the bonding process.

“This is where we hear from local residents on why these critical infrastructure are needed in their communities,” Lee said.

He said they’ll start deliberations in January and finish session in May to figure out what they want to invest state dollars in.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Senate Capital Investment Committee Tour will take place at the Martin County Courthouse.


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