Jail plan moves ahead

Inter-County Leader

County administrator updates supervisors on project

BURNETT COUNTY – Administrator Nate Ehalt updated county supervisors on the planning process for the proposed jail, noting that the current projected costs are exceeding initial estimates but that there will be time to make adjustments that will result in lower cost.

Ehalt gave the update at the regular monthly meeting of the Burnett County Board of Supervisors last Thursday, July 22.

“We’re looking at about 65,000 total square feet but we’ll probably be backing down from that a bit as we move forward,” Ehalt said. “The present cost estimate ranges from $28.8 million to $32.6 million, which includes construction as well as site work and any contingencies necessary. This is very, very preliminary and we hope to bring that number down to $25 million to $27 million, our original estimate.”

The new jail will have 92 to 98 beds, a dramatic increase from the current facility’s 26 beds. The county is often faced with spending money to house inmates at jails in neighboring counties.

Ehalt met with the project committee last Wednesday, July 21, to further discuss schematic designs and square footage and where the actual footprint of the project will be located. A portion of the project will include approximately 4,000 square feet of renovation of the current jail space in the government center.

Artist renderings of the new facility should be available in a few weeks.

Ehalt, along with the sheriff, jailer and others toured other newer jail facilities in Wisconsin a few weeks ago and based on square footage, Burnett’s proposed facility is closest in size to the Oconto County Jail, built in 2017 at a cost of $275 a square foot.
Construction costs have risen since then. The 2020 Iowa County Jail was built at a cost of $357 per square foot. Again, Burnett County’s project involves some renovation which would lower the cost of new construction somewhat.

The project committee was scheduled to meet again Monday, July 26, to explore some alternatives in building plans and space, including atrium size and office square footage to potentially find some cost savings.

“We will be focusing on staff also,” Ehalt said. “We cannot afford to increase the number of staff to operate the new jail.”

At some point over the next six weeks or so, the state Department of Corrections will be invited to provide some insight into the project. 

Ehalt has noted previously that his goal is to have the financing package to the county board for a vote at either their September or October meeting.