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The future of the Winona County Jail began to solidify after the Winona County Board reached a compromise on the size of the facility Tuesday.

After nearly two hours of debate, the board directed staff to draft a resolution to seek bids for both a 78-bed and a slightly larger 98-bed facility.

The compromise came at the suggestion of Bruce Schwartzman of BKV Group, the architectural firm assisting the county in the planning phase.

Schwartzman said by bidding a 78-bed facility with an alternative bid for a 98-bed facility, the county would have more time and information available to assist their decision.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced the Winona County Jail, after decades of noncompliance, would need to close in September 2021, leaving the Winona County Board just three years to plan and replace the aging facility.

Estimates put the cost of a 78-bed facility at $21 million while the 98-bed facility comes in at just under $22 million.

Commissioners Marcia Ward and Steve Jacob both said that while they recognize the need for a new jail, they could not support a 98-bed facility, especially when neighboring jails in Wabasha and Houston counties have struggled to fill their facilities.

“I’m not convinced that there is a need (for a larger facility),” Jacob said. “I’m concerned about overbuilding.”

Sheriff Ron Ganrude dismissed Jacob and Ward’s comparison to Wabasha and Houston.

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“I don’t think it makes a good comparison,” he said, citing the fact that neither Wabasha or Houston County’s jails have to cope with a large population center like Winona.

Ward and Jacob also drew debate from several on the board and the Jail Advisory Committee who argued that based on the current population trend, specifically when accounting for spikes in the jail population during the weekends, a 78-bed facility would be over capacity from day one and full everyday by 2027.

“By 2027 we would be paying for both the building and transportation,” said JAC chairman Justin Green, speaking on the proposed 78-bed facility.

For commissioner Greg Olson, the issue came down not only the cost difference but projections that showed a 78-bed facility wouldn’t fit today’s needs.

“I have a hard time try to sell to the taxpayer that we are building a facility today that does not fit today’s needs,” he said.

Olson’s concerns were mirrored by Chief Deputy Jeff Mueller who said if the inmate population trend continues to grow as expected, what the county would save by building a smaller building would be lost to transportation and housing costs.

“How fast does the $1million in savings on the 98-bed facility compare to the 78-bed facility get eaten up?” he asked.

The board is expected to vote on the proposed resolution at the next meeting in July.

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Tobias Mann covers crime and government in Winona County. He can be reached at 507-453-3522 or at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com

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