The Allen County Commissioners Friday tapped Elevatus Architecture to design a new Allen County Jail.

Elevatus was commissioned last year to execute a study on the county’s criminal justice system. About a third of the 120-page study was devoted to options to renovate or replace the existing jail that occupies three prime riverfront acres downtown at the corner of Clinton and West Superior streets.

How big, what components will be included in the new jail, and where it will be located are details yet to come.

However, Commissioners are under Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty’s order to come up with a long-term solution by mid-July. A design and a 60- to 70 -acre land parcel are part of the judge’s requirements unless the commissioners want to risk contempt of court.

Allen County spokesman Chris Cloud said it’s usual procedure for a design fee to be a percentage of the project’s construction costs. In this case, the negotiated fee is 3.145%. The project is estimated to cost between $300 million and $350 million. That’s more than $11 million.

Cory Miller, Elevatus president, said it could take months to present a jail design. The design will likely contain a mental health wing or medical wing, a component the commissioners, the Allen County Sheriff and anti-jail coalitions want.

“Once they find a site that is suitable, they’ll probably ask us and our design team to review that for constructability , easy access to and from health care facilities, for emergency runs for the sheriff’s office . Depending on what the needs are, different sites may rate well or poorly so that will be part of our evaluation with them,” Miller said.

At the meeting, a dozen supporters with Help Not Handcuffs, a local group that sprang up a couple of months ago as talks about a new jail became more urgent, reiterated their demand that the commissioners meet with them to discuss alternatives to incarceration and delay any progress on the new jail.

However, Nelson Peters, president of the three-person board of commissioners, said he and the two other members – Richard Beck and Therese Brown – will fulfill Leichty’s order.

“The judge said in no uncertain terms that his order was clear and he had an expectation that we would act upon it quickly,” said Peters referring to a letter sent to them by Help Not Handcuffs demanding a response by Thursday before the commissioners meeting and to meet with them before any action was taken.

“When we get a letter like what we got that demands a response by a particular time and demands a meeting by a particular time, that’s not the way you develop a collaborative effort towards problem solving in these cases,” Peters said. “Any meeting that we may agree to is going to have to be held in a public forum if the intent is to meet with all three commissioners just like the meeting we’re having today. I don’t know what’s the matter with this forum.”

Peters continued to say the irony is that the goals are similar, particularly when it comes to mental health and including treatment for that it in any new facility.

The commissioners this week spent hours looking at two new sites to build a jail and Wednesday visited the Marion County Jail to see what innovations in incarceration and mental health were included, Peters said. Elevatus helped design part of that complex. Elevatus designed the Adams County Jail in 2016 and has more than 80 jails built nationwide in its dossier.

A new county jail became urgent after Leichty issued an opinion on March 31 declaring the commissioners’ responsible, along with the Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux, for the unconstitutional and inhumane conditions at the jail. The opinion came as a result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and inmates in January 2020 over the overcrowding and understaffing that led to those conditions.

The sheriff’s department has followed the judge’s orders to lower the number of inmates to no more than 732. Six weeks ago, the average stood at 800. Lead booking officer Anthony Malloris told WANE TV that there’s been cooperation among all parties, including the courts and prosecutors, to lower the numbers.

The commissioners cancelled a $1 million contract with the U.S. Marshalls to drastically reduce the number of federal inmates housed at the Allen County Jail and the Indiana Department of Corrections has agreed to take at least 14 inmates to state prison each week. One week the number was doubled, Gladieux said.

Friday, the inmate number was 669 with no federal inmates and only 14 inmates sleeping in boats, the plastic shells inmates have been forced to sleep on because of the need to separate certain classes of offenders. The judge found the boats particularly offensive in his opinion.

The judge said he would not be satisfied with the 732 number, however and expects that number to be 80% of the jail capacity at 592.