$40K for required study of new jail feasibility OK’d by Monroe County commissioners

A $40,000 feasibility study for the construction of a new jail was approved by Monroe County commissioners at their regular Wednesday morning meeting.

The work will be done by the RQAW Corporation.

Such a study is required under Indiana state law, before a new jail can be constructed or reconstructed. Also required under state law is a public hearing on the study’s results.

Based on Wednesday morning’s deliberations, RQAW’s work is not expected to be completed before the end of the year. It’s supposed to take at least “eight work weeks” to complete the study.

The move toward constructing a new jail is the county government’s response to the work of consultants,  which was delivered nearly two and a half years ago.  The reports from the consultants concluded that the current county jail facility, at 7th Street and College Avenue, is failing to provide constitutional levels of care.

County attorney Jeff Cockerill said at Wednesday’s meeting that when the county contracted for the earlier studies, the thought was that the work would count as the statutorily required feasibility study.

But Cockerill added that the subsequent public meetings, which were held when the results of the study were discussed, were not noticed to the public  explicitly as public hearings. State law requires that a public hearing be held.

In addition, Cockerill said, not everyone reads the previous study the way that he does—which he thinks clearly indicates that Monroe County needs a new jail facility. The idea that the previous consultant’s report was not definitive about the need for a new jail was something county government heard when it attempted last year to have a property in the southwest corner of the city of Bloomington rezoned to allow for a correctional facility,

Bloomington’s city council rejected that rezone request in late 2022.

The alternate location for a new jail that the county commissioners are currently considering is a different piece of land, most of which has been owned by the county since 2002. The county purchased the Thomson PUD property south of Catalent and west of Rogers Street for $1.261 million  with an eye towards constructing a juvenile justice facility there.

The construction of the facility never happened. But the 2002 rezone request to allow a corrections facility to be constructed there was granted by the city of Bloomington.

Even though the allowable uses, which are listed out in the amended PUD, mean that it’s possible for a jail to be built there, Cockerill told The B Square that the county government would likely ask for a change to some of the other parts of the PUD plan. That’s if the Thomson site winds up being the location where the county government decides to build a new jail.

The parts of the PUD zoning that the county government would want to alter relate to the required transportation connections that would have to be built. In the 1998 version of the PUD, there’s a mention of an east-west road to connect Adams and Rogers streets and north-south roads connecting to Patterson Drive. The county government would likely want to coordinate responsibility for constructing the access roads with the currently proposed Summit District PUD to the west.

To change any part of the PUD, which regulates a zoning district, first requires consideration by the Bloomington plan commission, and then approval by the city council.

Based on responses from county commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas to B Square questions after the Wednesday morning meeting, the county government will not be asking the Bloomington plan commission to consider revising the Thomson PUD before the end of the year.

Thomas indicated that some movement on jail site selection, whether it’s the Thomson site or something else, might come in the first quarter of 2024.

The feasibility study that was approved at Wednesday’s meeting will likely not be done before the end of the year. That means the related public hearing won’t happen until 2024.

There’s still some momentum towards selection of the Thomson PUD site, in the form of other studies that the county commissioners approved in late August.

Commissioners and the legal staff are now chewing on a 243-page Phase 1 environmental report that the commissioners asked VET Environmental Engineering to complete for the Thomson PUD, and which has now been delivered.  VET has also delivered a report from site reconnaissance visits. [Added Nov. 2, 2023: a geotechnical report about the site has also now been delivered.]

One of the additional steps that would need to be taken, to make the Thomson PUD the site of a new jail would be for the county government to purchase about 5 acres of land on the northern boundary of the Thomson PUD property. The 5-acres site sits at the end of Strong Drive, which means it’s important for access to the Thomson PUD site.