FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — A contract to buy 2911 Meyer Rd for $6.3 million to build a new county jail is expected to be finalized this week, according to Allen County Commissioners, who met Wednesday for their last legislative meeting in 2022.
County attorney Bill Fishering announced the purchase price at the meeting, but other details weren’t given. The price for 142 acres chosen to build a new Allen County Jail was projected to be the average of two appraisals; however, property owner Bill Bean said he would pitch in the difference between his asking price and the appraised value.
The land also must be approved by the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for a contingency use particular to a corrections facility. The zoning is appropriate otherwise, said Commissioner President Nelson Peters. The next BZA meeting is scheduled for Jan. 18.
The purchase must also be approved by the Allen County Council who set aside $20 million at their December meeting for the land purchase, but expected the price to be much lower, according to council president Kyle Kerley.
“The $6.was a negotiated price. You start out with a certain figure and the owner starts out at a certain figure and you arrive where you arrive,” Peters said after the meeting. “We were able to agree with him on a purchase price of $6.3 million. There are a number of contingencies still to be worked through at this point. We felt that we were close enough at this point we could make the announcement at today’s meeting, in part to satisfy the judge, his desire to see us move more quickly on this project.”
Peters said the commissioners “still had some work to do with the neighbors,” including commercial neighbors. Residents of Bremer Road and the Sunnymede subdivision have voiced concerns and objections over the placement of the jail at that particular site which is the former International Harvester site.
The new jail’s design is on schedule to be revealed by the end of April. The date is part of a timeline drawn up by the commissioners and Elevatus Architecture. Cory Miller, Elevatus president, told federal judge Damon R. Leichty at a third status hearing Friday on the jail that the designs should be in place, as well as hiring a construction manager.
Although initially the jail’s design was set to house 1,100 inmates, the figure is now around 1.320, Peters said. The mental health component is yet to be worked out, but 100 or more of the beds are expected to be for inmate intake and mental health. Peters and other local officials have been working with the state on building a regional mental health center here that would get state financial backing.
“What needs to be worked out though, needs to be worked out with the General Assembly,” Peters said. “And that is whether or not we build a regional-type facility as part of that complex up here. We’re not going to know what kind of dollars the General Assembly has to help us with probably before April of this year. So that could stymie some of the planning for a grander type facility, but yes, we are planning on mental health-ype beds to deal with some of those individuals that we believe probably shouldn’t be in the jail to begin with.”
Peters said it looks as though the state is heading toward developing a regional network of mental health facilities and have Allen County pilot such a facility, that could incorporate numerous counties in northeast Indiana.
Part of the negotiations include the total acreage which is beyond the 70 acres required for a new jail facility. With the extra acreage and buildings, the design will allow for more parking and consolidation of county offices like the health department, environmental management, community corrections, among other departments.
“As the deal came together, we realized we had more opportunity than just building a jail in Allen County,” Peters said. The commissioners own more than 40 buildings in the county. Consolidation would allow the county to reduce the government footprint and put more buildings in one location, Peters added.
On Friday, the commissioners and Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux appeared at the status hearing called by Leichty who sided with the Indiana ACLU and inmates in their lawsuit citing inhumane conditions at the existing jail, mostly due to overcrowding and understaffing. The suit was filed in January 2020, and Leichty issued his opinion in March.
Peters said Wednesday he believed the contract announced at the meeting should please the judge who indicated he appreciated the commissioners’ steps taken to address the conditions the judge found deplorable in March.