New jail needed: Sheriff's Department entrance

The Guthrie County Sheriff’s Department has one secure entry, located on the back side of the courthouse, near the public, handicapped access entrance to the building.

GUTHRIE COUNTY — Officials with the Guthrie County Sheriff’s office are trying to get the word out about a referendum that will be on the ballot on March 3 for a new law enforcement center. The new addition to the Guthrie County Courthouse would add jail space and security features at an estimated cost of $8 million.

Space and security are the main concerns driving the need for a new jail, according to Chief Deputy Jeremy Bennett. He said the jail has been at capacity “for pretty much the whole last year.” With only 10 beds, being full has resulted in the department having to house 5-10 inmates in surrounding counties. The cost, per day, to house an inmate is $55-65, but there is an additional cost in transportation as deputies need to shuttle inmates back and forth for court dates. Having enough deputies on hand to do the transfers is also a problem, as the department is still down two deputies injured in a shooting incident earlier this year.

Bennett said state code mandated square footage needed for jail facilities, adding, “We are way outdated and just don’t have the security features that are needed.”

A series of public meetings along with social media videos are being used to get the word out about the plans — and needs — for the new building before the vote.

Deputy Kent Gries recently went live on Facebook to talk about some of the features that officials would like to see with the new law enforcement center. The video shows the back of the courthouse building where the main entrance is, along with the main entrance for the sheriff’s office. One downfall to the current facility, he said, was that there was only one place for deputies to park, and when they were bringing in inmates, they had to look out for members of the public who might be going in and out of the courthouse. “Transferring inmates can be very dangerous,” Gries said.

The new facility would have 28 beds, and would offer more space to segregate inmates. It would include a secure sally port — a controlled entrance where deputies could drive their vehicles into a garage area, and secure their weapons in a lock box before unloading inmates.

The current entrance can also be challenging when bringing intoxicated individuals in to the jail. Bennett said there were stairs at the current entrance, “and it can be a chore taking someone who is intoxicated down the stairs safely.”

The new addition would be added on the north side of the courthouse, and if the referendum passed, officials would have to let the project for bids, and would probably start work on the building next fall.

The first Community Information Meeting will be held in Menlo, at the Menlo Community Building on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.

Additional meetings are scheduled for Jan. 9 in Stuart at 7 p.m.; Jan. 18 at the Bayard Community Building in Bayard at 10 a.m. and also at 1:30 p.m. at the Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids; Jan. 21 at the Guthrie Center High School at 7 p.m. and Jan. 28 at the Panora Community Building at 7 p.m. Meetings in Bagley, Casey, Jamaica, Yale, Lake Panorama and a second meeting at Guthrie Center High School are planned for Feb. 22.

The meetings are hosted by Guthrie County Vote, an organization set up to provide information on the new law enforcement center and the bond vote planned for March 3.