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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

Lucas County officials seek alternatives to a new jail

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Five months after Lucas County officials appeared to be headed toward constructing a jail, two of the three county commissioners now say they want know if there's more life left in the 28-year-old facility.

The county sent a letter this week to Poggemeyer Design Group asking the Bowling Green architectural to firm develop a "comprehensive feasibility report" that examines renovation or reconstruction and expansion of the jail, which is on Spielbusch Avenue along the Civic Center Mall in downtown Toledo.

Poggemeyer has been paid more than $352,000 to study jail options. In June, it presented plans for building a jail Commissioner Pete Gerken estimated could cost $40 million to $60 million and house up to 1,000 inmates.

The existing six-story jail was built with a capacity for 419 inmates, but Sheriff James Telb has said crowding in recent years has meant that an inmate population exceeding 500 isn't unusual.

An additional $43,957 left in the budget with Poggemeyer will be used to look at renovating and expanding the jail, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat and president of the board of commissioners, said yesterday.

"I think we are looking at all the options," she said. "What's a way we can do this, have an efficient jail, and not cost an arm and leg? The No. 1 goal, always, is the safety of our citizens. If there's a way to do that and save the taxpayers $40 million, we need to look at it."

Mr. Gerken, also a Democrat, agreed the price tag attached to construction of a new lock-up has led county officials to reconsider their options. He said he is "not prepared" to ask voters for money to build a jail and wants to see if crowding and security issues can be solved through renovations.

Commissioner Maggie Thurber, the lone Republican on the board of commissioners, said yesterday she believes constructing a jail in conjunction with a new Toledo Municipal Court was a longtime priority for the commissioners. She noted the commissioners previously told Poggemeyer to proceed with research for a new jail.

"I was convinced originally [a new jail] was the best option, and I haven't been convinced otherwise," Mrs. Thurber said.

Mr. Gerken acknowledged that other building projects now on the county's radar - including a central power plant and possible county involvement in a new sports arena - were a factor in seeking prices on remodeling or renovating the facility.

"It's not build a jail or build an arena. They're not mutually exclusive," he said. "We do have some things on our list, and we'll have to prioritize them."

While jail officials would love to have a new facility, jail administrator Jim O'Neal said yesterday they recognize it would behoove the community to look at less expensive options.

"We're not saying that we have to go that direction. We just want to look at it," he said.



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