Wood County breaks ground on new jail
BY MIKE WARREN
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – After decades of discussions, and soaring prices due to inflation, a Wood County jail project expected to exceed $89 million finally got to the starting line Oct. 18, with an official groundbreaking ceremony.
Sheriff’s Department officials joined Wood County Supervisors, mayors, and others, on a mostly sunny but windy and brisk day, near the project site adjacent to the courthouse, to turn the ceremonial first shovels full of dirt.
“We are excited to finally embark on this construction process for this desperately-needed new jail facility,” Sheriff Shawn Becker said in his remarks to the bundled-up crowd. Becker also said the need for new or renovated jail space was first addressed in April, 2001. The size of that project proposed twenty years ago is nearly identical to the project that is now underway, he said.
As he made the case for the new project, Sheriff Becker sited degrading condition of the current facility, rising concerns over inmate and officer safety, the lack of amenities and space for inmate programming and the skyrocketing cost of housing Wood County inmates elsewhere. The county has routinely sent its excess inmates to facilities in Waupaca and Adams counties for over twenty years. “Just to house 90 inmates out of county it costs around $1.4 million a year,” Becker said. “The new facility will have an increased budget for additional staff, but it will be far cheaper annually than this current huge expense for housing inmates out of county,” he added. The new jail will have a maximum capacity of 300 inmates, eliminating the need to send inmates elsewhere.
While capacity was one driving force behind the new jail project, safety was another. Wood County Supervisor Bill Voight, Vice-Chairman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, and past county Coroner, said during groundbreaking ceremonies the new facility will have features which will keep inmates much safer than the current jail. “It will help reduce the possibility of suicides while being incarcerated,” Voight said. “We can get a better handle on observing a potential suicidal candidate. We can segregate that person from the general population,” he added.
During his remarks, Wood County Board Chairman Lance Pliml said public safety was the number one issue identified by residents in a survey of the public. “This is transformational, it’s generational,” Pliml said. “And frankly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are some people that need to be incarcerated, both pre-trial and then afterwards,” he added.
The current jail was built in the 1950s and added onto in the 80s. In most instances, costs to make repairs far exceed replacement, or replacement parts are no longer available. Since County Board members voted in August, 2021 to borrow $61.5 million for the project, inflation and supply chain issues have hit the construction trades, and bids back in September came in at $98 million – which includes contingencies for future cost increases or overruns. The new jail project is scheduled for completion in 2025.