FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –On or before Feb. 7, residents will have the opportunity to view online a revised layout of the proposed new Allen County Jail.
The Allen County Commissioners held a public meeting on Jan. 10 with design and graphics that gave nearby residents in the Sunnymede housing development and on Bremer Road an idea of how the jail would be positioned on the 142-acre site at 2911 Meyer Road.
The jail, often cited as the single largest public construction project undertaken by the county, could cost up to $350 million and house more than 1,100 inmates. The new jail is the result of a federal lawsuit filed by the Indiana ACLU and inmates in January 2020, which called attention to inhumane conditions and attributing those conditions to overcrowding and understaffing.
Federal judge Damon R. Leichty agreed with the inmates in March of last year, throwing the county into a rush to fulfill the judge’s order that things had to change at the jail, including the stacking of inmates in small cells, sleeping on “boats” next to the toilet. Leichty wanted more daily recreation for the inmates and more confinement officers so the jail would be safer for everyone.
While the jail commanders and staff have done everything they can to reduce the number of inmates in the jail, further investigation by WANE 15 revealed a rotting infrastructure at the landlocked jail. Sitting at Superior and Clinton streets on 3.3 acres, the downtown jail is now prime riverfront property eyed by developers.
The commissioners and the Allen County Sheriff saw the need to build a new jail, one that reflects updated jail designs of this century with enough room to accommodate a growing county population.
In effect, one-story jails with mezzanine and updated technology, including lighting and security, keep inmates from flooding their cells, as they do now at the old jail, and sending contraband and threats through the plumbing at the existing four-story jail.
Activist groups like Help Not Handcuffs have pressured the commissioners to include a mental health ward at the jail, particularly since state mental health facilities started disappearing in the 1980s onward.
[Note: the jail had 648 inmates today at the jail,down from last year’s average of about 800 inmates. However, some classifications stay almost the same including pre-trial felony inmates at 258 and probation violators at 165. The number of sentenced Felony 6 inmates at 101 is about 30 inmates lower because any Level 6 inmates sentenced after July 1 are now sent to the Indiana Department of Corrections.]
With a decision made on the property at 2911 Meyer Road, Elevatus Architecture is now producing plans that will lead this year to the construction of a 400,000 square foot jail with PODS, making space somewhat interchangeable.
Elevatus Architecture, a local architectural firm that has experience building and renovating 80 jails nationwide, will provide an updated layout on or before Feb. 7, Cory Miller, Elevatus president, said Friday at the weekly commissioners’ meeting.
By the time the Feb. 16 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting rolls around, commissioners hope the approval of a contingency use variance will go smoothly.
Some of the design changes the county is making to appease nearby neighbors include:
—berming and visual screening and continuing the security fence east. (An 8-foot berm with a tree line was proposed separating the jail property from Sunnymede)
—flip the plan for the sally port and employee parking, so employee parking is closest to the neighborhood
“The biggest change was, functionally, the neighbors felt like the part of the building that was closest to them (sally port), they didn’t like it there. They wanted to flip the building. We’ve modified the building plan and the master plan and the ramifications of that causes changes to drives and parking and drainage and making sure we address all of things that are important to the neighborhood,” Miller said at the commissioners’ meeting.
“There was never a connection to the Sunnymede neighborhood or to Bremer Road from the facility,” Miller said. “All access was from Meyer Road or Maplecrest. The vehicle sally port was just the closest part of the building to the neighborhood and they would prefer staff parking which is on the other side of the building,” Miller said. With county officials on board to make the change, Miller said that change will be implemented.
Updated designs can be found at allencounty.us/jail.