Public Safety Center construction project
The Minnesota Department of Corrections, in a July 2019 letter, said it was downgrading Rice County’s main jail to a 90-day facility effective Nov. 1, 2019, citing a lack of required programming and recreational space.
The change would limit the number of days a facility can hold inmates and forced the county to relocate inmates who had served 90 days in the jail to jails in nearby counties. The change would cost the county, according to the then-sheriff’s 2019 estimate, $500,000 annually to house and transport inmates from out-of-county jails to the Rice County courthouse and back. A 2021 estimate put that figure at $1 million.
County officials also noted that doing so would tie up deputies who would otherwise be performing their regular duties.
The Board of Commissioners on July 30, 2019 agreed to conduct a study looking at the county’s needs for a jail and presenting possible solutions. That led the DOC to hold off on a change in classification, provided Rice County continued to work to resolve the shortcomings in its facility. Hired to do the study was Klein McCarthy Architects, which worked with a task force comprised of county staff (including Sheriff’s Office and jail staff) and two county commissioners, which met to consider the county’s needs and research options.
Following an April 2021 report, the board voted to build a 76-bed Public Safety Center. In September 2021, it approved the purchase of 109 acres just east of Hwy. 3 near its intersection with 30th Street for the new Public Safety Center.
Rice County has been granted two extensions on the jail reclassification, due in large part to its work to build a new jail that meets DOC requirements. The current extension expires July 1, 2022.
Months of research and review led the board-appointed task force to recommend building a new Public Safety Center to house Sheriff’s Office employees and a 76-bed jail on undeveloped property. Though the price tag was estimated at $48 million, the group concluded the other options made little sense.
Adding onto the current Law Enforcement Center on Third Street NW was even more expensive. Topography made meeting Department of Corrections requirements for a jail facility more challenging and more costly (by about $10 million). There were also concerns about space. Using the site, at the western entrance to downtown Faribault, would leave no room for future growth.
The task force also considered expanding the Jail Annex on Hwy. 60 just east of Western Avenue NW, but concluded that there are troublesome mechanical issues with the former federal facility and that a gas main running near the facility could create significant hurdles if an expansion was ever necessary.
Just as the board received the study, the Steele County Board of Commissioners invited the Rice County board to form a partnership to use its Owatonna jail, which was operating at less than 50% capacity.
During an April 6, 2021 work session, Northfield Police Chief Mark Elliott recommended against the proposed partnership. Among his reasons: the additional travel time to the Steele County jail, especially for Northfield, Lonsdale and Dundas officers; the risk of regularly sending local law enforcement to Owatonna on an interstate he called “notoriously hazardous in the winter” and the additional difficulties for inmates’ families — especially their children — wanting to visit their loved ones in jail.
Department of Corrections officials also advised against a collaboration, saying that while Steele County’s jail had available space, it didn’t have the flexibility to meet Rice County’s needs. DOC regulations require inmates be housed with those classified similarly. Classifications include gender, security risk and medical/mental health needs. A draft April 15, 2021 report, Criminal Justice System Analysis & Detention Center Forecast, done for Steele County, concurred with those findings.
Following two April 2021 public input sessions, the Rice County Board of Commissioners in July 2021 voted to build its own jail on undeveloped property. During its discussion, the board said a collaboration with Steele County would carry a higher price tag than building its own jail and result in a loss of local control.
The Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of 109.2 acres of land at a cost of $1.65 million on Sept. 14, 2021. The site, formerly Faribault Food spray fields and before that, Family Drive-In, is just east of Hwy. 3 and 30th Street on Faribault’s northern edge.
The site was selected because it's near the county’s center and will have good vehicular access. By the time the Public Safety Center is complete, the city of Faribault will have finished a planned roundabout at Hwy. 3 and 30th Street.
Two new sections of roadway will be built too -- extensions of First Avenue NW and Eastview Drive -- creating access to the Public Safety Center and anticipated development.
Only a portion of property will be used for the Public Safety Center. A 5-acre segment of county-owned land will likely house a ground-mounted solar field that will help power the new facility.
It's expected that land immediately south of the site will become commercial/industrial property, and land to the north will be used for housing.
Final design documents are set to be presented to the Board of Commissioners in April 2022. Once those are accepted, bids for the project will be let. Bids will likely be approved in June 2022.
While county leaders hope to begin construction soon after bids are approved, construction supply shortages may cause some problems, at least early on. Supplies that have been hard to come during the pandemic, including steel and precast concrete panels, will be ordered as soon as possible to minimize delays.
The Board of Commissioners last year voted to use a construction manager to facilitate the project. That will allow bids to go out piecemeal instead of in one large package. That should help local firms, allowing them to secure contracts and benefit financially from the project.
A $48 million bond sale will help finance construction of the Public Safety Center. That's anticipated early in summer 2022.
The Board of Commissioners have asked the state Legislature to allow it to place a .375% sales tax on the November ballot. If the Legislature passes the measure and voters approve the referendum, proceeds from the sales tax will be used to repay the bond debt.
Because the facility will benefit the entire region, county officials recommended spreading the expense to those living outside the county who spend money in Rice County.
Taxes collected could only be used to repay construction bonds for the Public Safety Center. The tax would last a maximum of 30 years, but if the debt is paid more quickly, it would sunset.
Anticipated completion of the Public Safety Center is fall 2024.
- What kind of jail space does Rice County currently have?
The Rice County Sheriff’s Office operates two county jail facilities, a 35-bed linear-style main jail facility which includes a mixture of minimum, medium, maximum and special housing units along with dormitory style housing. This facility manages both male and female inmates. The main jail facility was built in 1972 with a total of 30 beds to serve the county and is located in the upper floors of the Law Enforcement Center.
In the late 1990s, six additional beds were added, bringing the total beds to 36 (the MN DOC authorized operating capacity is listed as 35). In 2011, the county procured a vacated Army Reserve site and moved 32 inmates to be housed in the annex facility.
The second facility is the Minimum-Security Jail Annex facility which is licensed to house 36 individuals; however, it currently only operates at 32 beds. The Annex, built in 1976, is also linear in design and primarily used to house work release inmates and minimum custody individuals.
- Are jail admissions rising in Rice County?
Rice County's jail admissions increased over the 11-year period (2009-19) a total of 3.35% and at an annual rate of 0.43%. Male admissions decreased overall -3.84 percent (annually at -0.27%) and females increased 36.33% (annually at 3.74 percent).
• The overall average daily population decreased -4.59% between 2009 and 2019; at a rate of -0.28%. Amongst these statistics, the male ADP decreased a total of -10.58% (at a rate of -0.91 percent) and the female ADP increased a total of 69.07%; at a rate of 8.61% annually.
• The average length of stay (ALOS) for all the overall population is averaged at 11 days between 2009 and 2019, which is well below the national average of 25 days. Males typically stay an average of 12 days and females stay an average of five days.
• The jail maintains an average of 57% of the MN DOC determined capacity of 71 beds between 2009 and 2019.
• The jail admission’s largest age groups (25 to 54 years of age – the “at risk age group”) matches the community’s largest age groups, which is indicative of the potential for an increase in admissions.
• The limited space of the current jail facilities limits the ability of staff to safely separate individuals who require separation by local classification policies, PREA standards and best correctional practices.
• The mental health inmate population has seen significant quarterly increases since 2014.
• The female population, while still small in numbers (less than 6 on average), are increasing at significant rates. As this population increases, the need for more separation space to adequately classify and properly house them is necessary.
- If the number of inmates isn't projected to rise significantly, why build a new jail?
Minnesota Department of Corrections inspections have identified the need for additional housing space in the Rice County Jail to meet inmate classification demands. Classifications include male/female, security risk and medical/mental health needs.
DOC inspections have also identified the need for additional program and leisure time activity space. Without additional space to meet these needs, the DOC has said it will limit the length of time inmates can be held to 90 days.
- What is planned for the current Law Enforcement Center when the new facility is finished?
The Community Corrections (probation) Department is current located in the historic portion of the Law Enforcement Center, but needs more space, especially for group meetings it often hosts. Once the new Public Safety Center is complete, current plans call for some modest upgrades (including energy-efficient lighting) will be done to what is now Sheriff's Office space so it can be used for Community Corrections. The Parks and Facilities Department is also expected to move into a portion of the building's lower level where it can have its offices, and house vehicles and other equipment.
- Is solar energy part of the project?
The county is researching the potential for a ground-mounted solar array on 5 acres directly east of the new Public Safety Center. The array would help power the safety center, but would not be tied to the grid.
- How is the Public Safety Center being financed?
The Board of Commissioners have asked the Minnesota Legislature to allow it to ask voters to consider approving a countywide sales tax that would pay for the new Public Safety Center. The board endorsed a .375% tax, noting that tax rate will likely bring in a bit more than it needs to repay the anticipated 30-year bond issue, letting the county to repay the debt more quickly.
If the Legislature approves, the question will be placed on the November 2022 ballot.
- July 2019 Department of Corrections reclassification notification
- 2019 County Jail/Facility Request for Proposal
- December 2020 DOC correspondence - reclassification extension request
- 2021 Jail/LEC Assessment and Feasibility Study
- Cost estimates (from 2021 study)
- Public Safety Center site map
- Public Safety Center site map 2
No matter how large or small, rural or urban the correctional facility may be, proper custody level, inclusive protection, medical care, or ADA considerations will apply equally. Nationally, inmate populations are sicker, older, and more in need of mental health services. Universally, correctional institutions of all sizes are acting as catchment facilities for people in need of human services.
— 2021 Klein McCarthy Architects study