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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, August 07, 2022

Construction of new county jail predicted to exceed budget by over $22 million

The new Dane County jail currently under construction is predicted to exceed its $148 million budget approved by the Dane County Board by an additional $22 million.

According to an analysis conducted by criminal justice research organization the JFA Institute, the total cost of completing the plans for the new Dane County Jail will exceed $170.1 million. Dane County initially partnered with the JFA Institute in June to cut costs surrounding the project and decrease the county’s jail population.

Initial funding for the project was approved in June 2019, with a budget of $148 million to construct a seven-story jail tower to replace two jails located in the City-County Building and the Ferris-Huber Center — both built in the mid-1950s. The new tower will be constructed behind the Downtown Public Safety Building jail.

According to District 5 County Supervisor Elena Haasl, rising construction and contracting costs are mainly responsible for driving the project over budget. Haasl explained in an interview with the Cardinal that they feel the estimation raises concerns about the efficacy of the program.

“It’s probably a mix between construction costs going up and different contracting increases in costs,” said Haasl. “We kept approving more funding because we kept going over budget. But now that it’s way over budget, even the County Executive has said that we need to rethink this because it’s just been spiralling out of control.”

In order to remain within the current budget, the JFA Institute recommends that the county reduce the number of floors in the jail, from the initially planned seven to five. If the County Board approves plans to reduce the number of floors, the capacity of the new facility would be reduced from 922 beds to 666.

In their analysis, the JFA Institute concludes that the reduction in capacity is sustainable as long as the jail population remains in the low- to mid-500s, which is consistent with the number of people incarcerated in Dane County during 2020. Despite this, the Institute suggests that the building’s design should remain flexible if more floors become necessary in the future.

Haasl stated that the board remains undecided on whether to remove the top two floors from the plans or approve $22 million in additional funding. “It’s still something that we need to figure out in the near future,” they said.

According to Haasl, some County Board members feel that additional funding is necessary, as the current facilities located in the City-County Building and the Ferris-Huber Center are too outdated to remain in operation.

“There’s pressure to build a new jail because they’re worried that things aren’t up to code,” Haasl said. “The new one would supposedly be a more humane jail … so people keep pushing for that despite it being over budget.”

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