Carlton County officials consider alternative site for jail
A planned water line has made a location near the Carlton County Transportation Building more viable since it was last considered in 2019.
The Carlton County Board of Commissioners have begun to consider an alternative site and potentially an expanded scope for its planned jail project.
The board on Monday, April 26, unanimously approved allowing Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau to work with Adolphson & Peterson, the construction manager on the project, and others to answer some questions on whether it is more practical to build near the courthouse or at an alternative site a few miles away.
The county needs to investigate whether it is more practical to build a jail or justice center near the current Law Enforcement Center — next to the Carlton County Courthouse — or at an alternative site near the Carlton County Transportation Building on County Road 61, according to Genereau. The process will require the county to pay for soil tests at both sites, and to get the answers quickly, Genereau needed the board to give him some flexibility.
“We’re going to have to spend some money on this,” Genereau told the board. “If you want some answers in a timely fashion, we’re not going to be able to wait from one board meeting to the next on all of these in order to go forward.”
Expenditures would be made by Genereau in conjunction with Board Chair Tom Proulx, Vice Chair Gary Peterson and County Auditor Kathy Korteum. Genereau said any cost that appears unusual would be brought back to the entire board for approval. They hoped to have some answers to the board’s questions about the sites by the next meeting regarding the project May 17.
During the county’s working meeting April 19, Paul Coughlin, jail administrator and project manager, detailed how a location near the Transportation Building became more viable in the last two years.
Coughlin said the county’s property was deemed not viable in a study by Minneapolis-based design firm BKV Group. The lack of a waterline to the site made it unsuitable for the jail project. However, since the 2019 study was completed, plans have been made by Twin Lakes Township to extend a public waterline to the area, making it a more plausible option for the new facility.
The county has approximately 285 acres at the Transportation Building, which occupies only 18 acres of the property — much larger than courthouse campus in downtown Carlton.
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If the county built near the site by Minnesota Highway 210 and Interstate 35, Coughlin said it could be more practical to expand the scope of the project to become a justice center. In that scenario, the courts, county attorney and public defender’s office would move to the new building.
The move would also address another growing concern with the courthouse campus: courthouse security. Couglin said Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Michael Cuzzo recently raised some concerns about the safety of the courtrooms and courthouse.
The Sixth Judicial District has not formally told the county the courthouse is not safe, but there is a risk they could do so if the concerns are not addressed with the jail project. The Pine County Courthouse was recently deemed unsafe, forcing officials there to transport inmates to hearings in Isanti County, Coughlin said.
Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau concurred with Coughlin’s assessment.
“They haven’t done a letter. They don’t want to do a letter by all representations to us,” Genereau said. “But they have indicated that they feel very, very strongly that the county has to take action to address their courtrooms.”
The size of the property near the Transportation Building also gives the county ample room to expand the facility in the future.
While building a justice center would expand the scope of the project — estimates in February put it at up to $60 million — the additional space would be mainly courtrooms and office space. Cost estimates for a justice center were not yet available, but the square footage cost of office space is “much less” than detention space, Coughlin said.
Problems with Carlton campus
As the county has continued to plan for the jail, problems have begun to emerge with the courthouse site.
A sewer line from the city of Carlton running along Maple Avenue across Third Street could severely constrict the county’s options for building a new facility on the campus. By code, nothing can be built within 10 feet of either side of the sewer line. McGough Construction in Duluth estimated it would cost $650,000-$725,000 to move the line.
“This is a major line that serves the whole western edge of Carlton,” Coughlin said.
In addition, the old transportation building was located on the site and included a pair of gas pumps. The county cleaned up some of the area after it built the current facility on County Road 61, but a 2011 letter from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said the county could have to do some additional mitigation if it ever wanted to dig or build in the current parking lot area of the courthouse.
Other problems have emerged with the Carlton High School property adjacent to the courthouse campus. The county met with members of the Carlton School Board on April 14 to discuss the availability of the campus. Genereau said they asked the district for an answer by mid-July.
Coughlin said previous plans for the new jail called for the new facility to be located in the current courthouse parking lot. The county planned to demolish the oldest part of the high school — the section closest to the current Law Enforcement Center — for a new parking lot and remodel the newer portion to house the county’s administrative offices.
That plan has been thrown into question by a pair of issues. The older part of the school was built in 1915 and contains asbestos and lead paint. The issues are not a danger to those currently using the building, but demolition would cost “not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars” to remove the hazardous substances, according to Coughlin.
What’s more, the heating and cooling system for the entire school is located in the older part of the building, meaning the county would incur more costs to connect the building to the new jail’s heating and cooling system.
“I’m not trying to advocate for one site or the other — I’m simply trying to go over the information that’s known today,” Coughlin said.
The next public jail planning meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. May 17 at the Carlton County Transportation Building.