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County employees tour expanded DeKalb County Jail ahead of opening

SYCAMORE – Jail workers led a procession of county employees through the new wing of the DeKalb County Jail on Wednesday, with only days to go before the opening of the building.

Joyce Klein, chief of corrections for the jail, said she’s grateful for the community interest in it, which will have its ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 17. She’s also been happy to show people around the facility while it isn’t occupied by inmates.

“We didn’t know when we’ll get the opportunity to do this again,” Klein said.

Klein said staff who monitor jail traffic started moving to the expansion in preparation for the first phase of its opening Wednesday, which was the same day county employees had the opportunity to tour the new facility. She said she expects the new kitchen and laundry rooms to be fully operational in June, and to be able to start booking inmates by early July, moving inmates to the new cells after July 4.

Construction began in June 2016, Klein said.

The expansion will increase the total number of beds in the jail to about 140, solving a decades-old overcrowding problem. Jail deputy Pete Hove said the jail lost about six cells to make way for a skyway that connects the current facility to the expansion.

While taking a large group of county workers through an empty shell space near the housing unit of the new wing, Klein said the jail could add about 60 more cells in the future that couldn’t be added immediately because of a lack of funding.

Klein said the new facility also has a roll-call room for staff, where members would find out which post they will work during each shift. She said the current jail space is about 46,000 square feet; with the addition, it will be more than 80,000 square feet.

“So it’s quite a difference,” Klein said. “We’re really going to change how we operate.”

The total cost of the jail expansion was $35 million. Last month, the project still had more than $25,000 left in its $900,000 contingency budget, even after the DeKalb County Building Commission approved an extra $7,325 to replace already-installed valves controlling water flow to inmate cells that had traces of lead in them.

The contingency budget originally was set at about $663,000, which was before an initial bond issue from the county was moved to the leeway fund and allowances from Excel Electric, Stark & Son and Waukegan Steel added about $28,000 more.

In June, the county issued about $33 million in bonds at a 3.6 percent interest rate for the project. Tipping fees – or a charge for waste haulers to dump trash – at Waste Management’s landfill near Cortland will cover about 90 percent of the annual payments. The landfill expansion has resulted in 500 tons of additional trash being dumped at the site a day. Sales tax proceeds will cover the remaining 10 percent of the cost to repay the bonds over
30 years.

Although the new jail isn’t fully functional, the Exchange Street barriers were moved and the street was reopened Wednesday afternoon.

Klein said part of the mission for the expansion was to help the jail be more fiscally responsible, to help reward good behavior by inmates and to discipline bad behavior. For example, she said, people can visit inmates through glass and over the phone currently; if an inmate is being disciplined, visitors could go into a new video room by the new jail entrance while the inmate uses a similar video room by their cell, she said.

“It’s not quite as personal as seeing them live,” Klein said.

Klein said the new space also includes a specific booking area. Back when the current jail was built in 1980, she said, it didn’t have one, and the employee break room had to be turned into a small booking area, which was no larger than a jail cell or two.

Hove said food is brought in for the inmates at the current jail. At the new facility, he said, there is a full-service kitchen with full-time staff serving inmates.

The jail is coming full circle on that in a way, Hove said.

“Years ago, the sheriff’s wife made meals for the inmates at the jail,” Hove said.

Currently, the jail has a doctor who sees inmates on a regular basis within the facility, and inmates were brought out of the jail by staff to see a dentist, Klein said. Now, she said, the jail has a space where a dentist could see inmates within the new facility starting in August.

“So we thought it would be more cost-effective,” Klein said.

And, she said, the expansion has vinyl tile flooring that doesn’t have to be waxed for similar cost-saving reasons.

“We’re 24/7,” Klein said. “Do you know how hard it is to wax a floor that we’re always walking on?”

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