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A peek behind bars: New Lee County Law Enforcement Center close to completion

DIXON – The new Lee County Law Enforcement Center is nearly complete, bringing to fruition to a project that officials have waited decades to see.

The 41,000-square-foot project was showcased to area media Friday in a tour of the facility and grounds, which includes a 96-bed jail, sheriff’s department, sally port and large storage garage.

“It’s a huge deal; we’ve been needing a jail since I started here,” said Jail Superintendent Jack Skrogstad, who’s been with the department 30 years.

The facility at 240 E. Progress Drive is a stark contrast to the deteriorating jail built in 1970 at 122 W. Third St., which has failed to meet jail standards for years.

With the improved site, there are enough cells and housing areas to properly segregate different classes of inmates as well as meet medical and mental health needs, it will be easier for correctional officers to make required 30-minute checks, and it will provide better safety and security overall.

Plus, department employees won’t have to worry about leaking water and sewage dripping from the ceiling in their offices like they do at the current jail, which also has mold and ventilation problems.

The law enforcement center is about 3 months ahead of schedule and is on track to fit within the $18.5 million budget cap set by the Lee County Board. It’s being funded by the half percent sales tax increase voters approved in 2017, on the county’s second try for a referendum.

Construction is about 90 percent complete, the administration should be moved in by the end of September, and public tours will likely be scheduled in early October, Sheriff John Simonton said.

There will also be testing and training to be done in October, and inmates could be moved in by the end of October.

The County Board signed off on hiring two additional correctional officers late last year to adequately staff the facility, which has six cell blocks, including dormitory-style housing and a mezzanine with an observation hallway with windows large enough to see both levels of cells.

The county will also once again be able to house women inmates, who’ve had to be transported to other jails at considerable cost after an Illinois Department of Corrections inspection in March 2017 found the jail violated a requirement that men and women be kept out of earshot of one another.

Transporting inmates will be more of a hike – the current jail is right next to the Lee County Courts Building at 309 S. Galena Ave. whereas the new facility is out near the industrial park– but about 80 percent of court appearances can be done via video conferencing, which is being expanded to all four courtrooms.

Simonton said transferring evidence over to the new building will be “one of the biggest undertakings” because of strict requirements with handling evidence.

There’s space set aside for library, church and educational purposes, and there’s a bit of room for expansion in another area that could become a fitness center for employees.

Design and construction management is being done by Cherry Valley based Ringland Johnson-Construction.

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