The primary requirement of the "judicial needs study" performed by the Schenkel Shultz architectural firm of Fort Wayne was to advise local officials what to do about the future of Adams Superior Court and the county probation department, located in an old and inadequate building in downtown Decatur.
However, the study also looked a number of years ahead to when a new county jail would be required to replace the current one, which opened in 1980 in Decatur.
Commissioner Ed Coil made quite clear at the meeting that the jail "is not on the radar." On the other hand, it is likely to be considered not too many more years from now, so plans are being considered.
David Sholl, a Schenkel Shultz architect, told the audience at a special session of the county commissioners this week that, like the court/probation structure, the jail has "many deficiencies" and "is at the end of its useful life, without major renovations."
Problems Sholl listed at the jail include the following:
• No outside light for inmates, with no windows in the cellblocks.
• A poor building layout, with unintended blind spots.
• Undersized kitchen, book-in area, and administrative rooms.
• No central control room to handle cell doors, cameras, etc. Instead, said Sholl, internal security is handled by the dispatchers in the jail basement who also deal with telephone calls, sending emergency units on runs, etc.
Sholl said there must be separate control rooms in a jail: one for the security of the building and one to handle all communications and 911-related matters.
The current jail has 12,000 square feet and a new one should have 53,000 to 66,000 square feet, said Sholl.
County Attorney Mark Burry pointed out that, "with the stroke of a pen," state officials could require counties to keep a lot more inmates instead of sending them to overcrowded state prisons, so plans must be made to potentially house a large number of people.
Sholl reported that the study examined six locations before offering two (numbers five and six below) for final consideration by local officials:
(1) Renovate the current jail and build an addition. Even if that's done, Sholl said, the jail, which is on a high bank by the St. Marys River, would be "boxed-in" and have no room for growth and there would be less parking than even the current inadequate parking area.
(2) Put a new jail just north of the current site, still along the river, but buying that much land and tearing down houses are negatives, Sholl said.
(3) Put a jail even farther north, closer to downtown (where the courthouse and other government buildings are), but that would be a narrow strip of land by the river and would violate Decatur's comprehensive plan, which calls for greater green space in the community.
(4) Build a jail on county land that is farmed and is near Golden Meadows Home on County Rd. 200 East, a few miles outside Decatur and about a half-mile south of US 33. Sholl said there would be a lot of expense to run water and sewer lines from Decatur and added that Decatur officials want the jail to stay in the city.
(5) Build a jail at the old Schafer Building at First and Madison Sts. and along First St. to Monroe St., tearing down the Star Insurance building. This idea would also use the adjacent building across the alley that was The Music House and the Habegger-Schafer store. This is close to both courts and has easy access to main roads for emergency purposes, Sholl said.
(6) Erect a jail at the former site of Adams County Memorial Hospital, now a large vacant lot bordered by Grant St., High St., and Mercer Ave on the southeast side of town. The location has good access to roads, is near the new hospital, and is already owned by the county, said Sholl.
Sholl said a new jail would be a great benefit because of efficiency of operation, better service to the public, and being a visible symbol of government working together to get worthwhile projects done.