Six months into operation, Public Safety Center is meeting expectations, both now and for the future

by Lissa Blake

Staff and inmates at the new Allamakee Public Safety Center are safer now than they were at the old facility.

That’s according to Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick, who said there are many benefits associated with the new facility, which was officially dedicated six months ago at the site of the former Makee Manor on Highway 9 north of Waukon.

“When we were located at the courthouse, when we brought inmates in to book them, the people who were at the counter conducting business were standing elbow-to-elbow with those being booked,” said Mellick.

Mellick said the old procedure was that law enforcement officials would pull up to the back of the courthouse and escort prisoners into the small elevator. At the new facility, squad cars pull into a protected garage with doors that are only controlled at the jail control center.

“You have to radio you’re coming in. It increases the safety and security of everyone involved, knowing from the time they get out of the squad car they’re in a controlled environment,” said Mellick.

In May of 2015, Allamakee County voters passed a bond referendum in the amount of $5.1 million to construct a County Jail, Sheriff's Office, E-911 Dispatch Center, E-911 Coordinator Office, Emergency Management Office and County Emergency Operations Center.

Mellick explained that the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors approved the County’s support of the project to the tune of $400,000 toward demolition.

“When we went out to receive bids, it (construction) was less than what we had estimated, so we only had to borrow $4.8 million,” said Mellick.

Mellick said over the years there have been many changes in the law regarding jail regulations. “Our old jail was not meeting the basic criteria and guidelines. That left us with some liability, and we’re responsible for the safety of inmates,” said Mellick.

Every jail is inspected by a state jail inspector, and Mellick said during previous inspections the County had been cited for a few things. One issue is that counties are required to house seven different classifications of prisoners and the old jail only had space for three different classifications.

“He didn’t say, ‘I’m closing you down,’ and he was very good about working with us in our old jail until we got the new one built,” said Mellick.

“Our options were to let it close and house inmates out-of-county at a cost of $50 or $60 a day, or to let it close,” said Mellick.

Mellick added when projecting it out, costs of housing inmates and transporting them to out-of-county facilities would cost more than building. “Twenty years from now, we’ll be money ahead,” said Mellick, adding the new facility took them from 14 places to house inmates to a total of 53, including 42 beds and 11 holding cells.

Mellick said one of the biggest advantages of the new Safety Center is the emergency operations center. “If we have a large-scale disaster, we can operate out of there. During the flood of 2013, we were set up in a breakroom at the courthouse,” he said.

Mellick added the new emergency operations center is large enough for the County to host some trainings of area law enforcement departments. “We’ve been involved in searches using cadaver dogs. We’ve been talking to some handlers regarding hosting some trainings or a seminar regarding cadaver dogs,” he said.

Mellick added his department is also planning to purchase a drone to use for search-and-rescue operations. “We’d also like to host some search-and-rescue training this spring,” he said.

Mellick said the new location offers plenty of storage for all departments at the new location and it is centrally located in the county. “The location is working out fine. As far as patrol goes, it is a great location,” he said.

As the facility reaches its six-month point of being operational, the new Public Safety Center is meeting all anticipated needs, both now and in the future.

"We looked at our history and projected out for the next 75 years," Mellick shared. "We didn't want to have it be obsolete 10 years from now. With this new center, we should have a functional building for the next 80-100 years."

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