A tour by Becker County commissioners Tuesday showed that construction on the new $21 million jail on Highway 59 North is well under way.
On the inside, the building is an imposing mix of masonry block, concrete and steel. With 186 regular beds as well as holding areas for short-term use, the building will have twice the capacity as the county now has in its jail and workhouse.
Because the new jail is laid out much more efficiently, commissioners hope to operate it with the same number of correctional staff.
"We are pretty much going to double our space," said Sheriff Todd Glander. The Becker County Jail has been full up and the county has had to use a half-dozen other county jails to board-out its excess prisoners. "It will be nice to have have all our inmates together under one roof," Glander said, adding that prisoners from the minimum security jail will also be housed in the new jail.
On the north end of the building will be jail cells, grouped in six pods of various sizes, all visible from a central control area. Those sight lines will allow a more efficient staffing ratio of officers to inmates than now exists in the jail attached to the courthouse. The control areas will be built with ballistic glass to allow visibility while protecting the officers.
The larger pods are for the general prison population, while the smaller pods are for those inmates that need more supervision, said James Schechter, project engineer with McGough Construction, which is building the jail. The biggest pod, with 56 beds, will have an officer stationed inside.
There will be a dozen or so cells designed to hold disabled inmates, in wheelchairs or otherwise.
There's a gym on the north side with natural light coming in from large windows high out of reach of the inmates. There is also a class room/training room with four computer stations where inmates can take tests and get their GEDs or otherwise improve their future prospects.
Other parts of jail will hold dormitory-style sleeping rooms and large dayrooms for the minimum-security work-release crew. There is a booking area, holding cells and a large holding cell for big events like WE Fest and the Fourth of July.
There is a large sally port for prisoner transportation ("you'll be able to drive a full transport bus right through," said Schechter), a booking area, a medical area, staff rooms, inmate training areas, a food service area and a large second-floor mechanical penthouse with large water heaters, natural gas boilers, and air exchange units for heating and cooling.
Dozens of workers were busy at the jail site Tuesday, and temporary signs posted through the building ("clothing issue," "staff lockers," "sergeant's office," "booking desk," "group holding," "bunk room") gave a glimpse into how the jail would function when it opens early next year.
Some 200 cameras will help officers keep an eye on inmates, and there will be door alarms and motion sensors, Schechter said. Vent security devices called "burglar bars" will keep inmates from escaping through the ductwork.
Utility corridors will run behind the cells for the safety and convenience of workers.
The new jail will also be more secure for corrections officers. "This is going to be a much safer facility, without a doubt," said Assistant Jail Administrator Christopher Burton.
As for the interior decor', don't be looking for the cell blocks to be painted a cheery periwinkle or chartreuse-the building is going to be done right, in a correctional color-oyster bar white, which is sort of cream colored with a hint of yellow.
The project, which broke ground in August, is expected to wrap up sometime in December. As for the future of the current minimum security jail that sits on Randolph Road in Detroit Lakes, the county will sell that building and will be looking into how to best utilize the current maximum security jail that is hooked onto the Becker County Courthouse for other county purposes.