Another piece of downtown Faribault may soon come under the county’s control, setting the stage for a possible expansion of its main jail.
Next week, a Rice County commissioners’ subcommittee will discuss the purchase of a .04-acre parcel at 306 First Ave. NW. The parcel, which county records show is owned by Eagle Building, of Racine, Wisconsin, sits on the same block as — but just east of — the county Law Enforcement Center.
If the county and buyer come to terms, the county will own all but two parcels on the block: 302 and 308 First Ave. NW. In May 2019, the county paid $217,000 for a .15-acre site, the former Lyons Meats on the corner of First Avenue NW and Fourth Street NW. At the time, County Administrator Sara Folsted said the county had no plans for the site or the block, but acknowledged there was a need for additional space at the county’s main jail, which houses high-security inmates and those with special needs.
Since then, the Minnesota Department of Corrections notified the county that because its main jail doesn’t adhere to its standards for recreation and programming space it planned to limit the length of time inmates could be held there. A 90-day limit, set to go into effect last November, was postponed when Rice County began a study to review existing jail facilities and determine possible solutions. A committee is currently working with a consulting firm on the study. Sheriff Troy Dunn has said a final report should come before the Board of Commissioners in December.
While any jail expansion could cost tens of millions and come on the heels of the expansion of two other county facilities — the Government Services Building and main Highway Shop, both in Faribault — doing nothing could quickly rack up costs and headaches for county law enforcement.
Last year, Dunn estimated the cost to use other counties’ jail space and to transport prisoners between those jails and the courthouse for hearings or trials at about $500,000 annually. While the pandemic-induced virtual hearings would likely limit prisoner transports, the county would still be responsible for covering housing costs for inmates held in other counties’ jails.
The county’s Parks and Facilities Committee meets in a closed session Wednesday to discuss the possible sale. The parcel, which includes a 1,660-square foot structure, is valued at $132,100, according to county records.
Any purchase would need to be approved by commissioners.