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County considers keeping portion of jail operational

Officials: Safe space needed to park inmates waiting for court hearings

DIXON – The county is leaning toward keeping the current jail open to house inmates waiting for court, and the new facility is closer to coming online.

For the last few months, the Lee County Board has discussed ways to temporarily house inmates from other counties or agencies and to walk them to court without interaction with the public.

The board researched options that included creating a holding area on the fourth floor of the Lee County Courts Building and renovating an elevator, but they either were cost-prohibitive or wouldn’t provide adequate isolation from the public, board member Dave Bowers said.

The solution likely will be to do some minor repairs at the aging jail at 122 W. Third St. and use part of the first floor.

The jail has failed to meet jail standards for years, and original plans were to demolish the building and construct a parking lot for about $1 million, but that was when the new jail was going to be attached to the courts building rather than built in the industrial park.

Construction of the new law enforcement center at 240 E. Progress Drive is nearly complete, and Sheriff John Simonton said it recently was inspected by the Illinois Department of Corrections, which found no flaws in design or construction.

The city is slated to inspect the facility this week, and the construction management firm Ringland-Johnson Construction will hand over the keys at the end of the month.

A public open house is being scheduled for early October and the move should be done by the end of October, Simonton said.

The 41,000-square-foot project includes a 96-bed jail, sheriff’s department, sally port and large storage garage.

The County Board capped project costs at $18.5 million, and Simonton said they’re still on track to be under budget and 2 1/2 months ahead of schedule. It’s being funded by the half percent sales tax increase voters approved in 2017, on the county’s second try for a referendum.

About 80 percent of court appearances can be done via video conferencing, which is being expanded to all four courtrooms in the courts building, and the board recently approved spending up to $15,000 to install a restroom and video conferencing area in the public defender’s office.

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