Here’s a rendering of what the new Henry County Jail would look like, according to officials from Elevatus. 
Photo submitted
Here’s a rendering of what the new Henry County Jail would look like, according to officials from Elevatus. Photo submitted
For months, it was just talk clouded by question marks, dollar signs and judicial pressure points. But Wednesday night, Henry County’s first new jail facility in 40 years began to take shape.

Commissioners not only heard, but also saw details of what was called the new Henry County Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center. Tony Vie, a representative of Elevatus Architecture, the Fort Wayne firm leading construction efforts for the new jail, presented an outline of what will be a $26.5 million facility.

The site is ideal, Vie said. It is located next to the New Castle Correctional Facility on approximately 6.5 acres of land along Van Nuys Road given to the county by the state.

“When you build a jail next to a prison, your neighbors don’t really care,” he said.

Vie said the new building would be:

Just under 57,000 square feet, with room to expand if needed;

House 246 total beds;

Rise to just over 30 feet high at its tallest point;

Have a structured steel frame and pre-fabricated steel cells that “are very common in modern jails.”

Five main components would make up the new facility – administration, intake area, minimum security, inmate services and general population. Vie said two-person and four-person cells would be part of the floor plans along with some dorm-style areas for minimum security inmates.

Wednesday’s meeting was just the fifth step in what Ice Miller LLP officials have outlined as a 35-step process to constructing a new jail. The Commissioners gave their preliminary approval to the lease, preliminary plans and specifications.

A public hearing on the facility – to be paid for through a $24.9 million bond issue and a 0.2 percent correctional Local Income Tax with a property tax back-up – will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10 in the Old Circuit Courtroom on the second floor of the Henry County Courthouse.

Attaching a property tax back-up to payment plans created some concern, but officials stressed it was both prudent and safe.

“The property tax back-up is an additional layer of security,” Baker-Tilly’s Emma Adlam said. “It enhances the marketability of the bonds. With this back-up, you’ll have a better rating, get lower interest rates and hopefully more interest, which will lower the interest rate on the bond sale.”

Henry County resident Steve Peckinpaugh, expressing concern about the possibility of residents getting stuck with a big bill, asked if a smaller facility would eliminate the need for a property tax back-up.

The answer was probably not.

“The county doesn’t intend to levy this,” Adlam emphasized. “This is purely to help the bond sale so you’ll have the best interest rates.”

“You should never have to levy this property tax but from a market perspective, that’s what they’re looking for,” Ice Miller’s Lisa Lee added. “That’s their security. That’s what’s going to get you the best rate.”

Plans call for the bond sale to take place on Sept. 23, with a notice to proceed with construction issued on Oct. 7.

Lee outlined some of the legal procedures involved in the project. She said more than enough signatures have been collected from the public to show support for the project. She advised Commissioners to begin considering appointments for a three-member building corporation.

If all goes according to plan, Vie said the building would be ready for use on Feb. 1, 2022.

“It’s not a shopping center,” he stressed. “In a jail, everything’s got to work on Day One. So we’ve built into the schedule some time to make sure everything is fleshed out and the jail officers are well-trained and know exactly what they’re doing.”

Sheriff Ric McCorkle said he liked the overall design and look of the new facility presented by Elevatus.

“In a linear jail, we would need 14 to 19 more employees than we have today,” McCorkle said. “We can’t afford that at this particular point and time. But the number of employees we have today will be exactly what we need when we move into this new jail. We’re not going to have to hire a bunch of new people. The day we move in, we’ll have the number of employees on staff ready to walk through those doors and we will be constitutional.”

After statutory approvals for the new jail project to proceed, Commissioners also selected a firm to remove asbestos from the former New Castle State Developmental Center administration building. That building must be demolished by the county to make room for the new jail.

The bid process here was something that took more than a first glance.

Commissioners ultimately decided to not accept the lowest bid for the work – submitted by Delta for $5,400 – and instead award the contract to EACI for $11,700.

“It’s my understanding the lowest bidder didn’t complete the full tour of that building,” McCorkle said. “They didn’t go on the roof. There’s going to be asbestos there.”
© Copyright 2020, The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN.