Additional Space at Law Enforcement Center | News

by Chris Rogers

Currently, the Winona County Law Enforcement Center (LEC) is a construction zone. Work on the new prison has taken over the parking lot, the entrance is half cordoned off, some doors and vents are covered in plastic to prevent dust from demolition in the old prison, and a photo of the Yorkie of Chief Steve Buswell of the prison project, hangs on the wall of a former storage cupboard transformed into a temporary office. There is a lot of redevelopment and abandonment of space to accommodate construction.

But when construction ends in 2023, it will be a whole different story. The department will have a surplus of space. Of the 14,000 square feet of the old prison, 3,000 will be repurposed as a new dispatch center, and the future use of the remaining 11,000 square feet is to be determined, Buswell said.

Earlier this month, Winona city officials proposed building a new fire hall, citing the possibility of the Winona Police Department (WPD) moving out of the top floor of the LEC, which it leases from the county. for decades. This would further increase the excess space at the LEC. “Even if the police department doesn’t move, we’ll have room,” Sheriff Ron Ganrude said.

For comparison, the WPD currently has 9,664 square feet at the LEC. WPD officials say they need double that space, and the proposed new fire hall would nearly triple it to 27,192 square feet.

Even now, much of the old prison is unused. Buswell pointed to the jail cells and bunks that will remain in place, empty and awaiting possible renovation or other use. Ganrude said of the annex, “It’s a huge storage facility right now and a few offices.”

Some of the LEC’s excess space – the old prison’s cell blocks – would be difficult to remodel. “You’re back to stripping out steel and concrete,” Buswell said. “So if they decide to do a demolition, it will be much more difficult.” At the same time, the county did just that — demolishing two cell blocks — to make room for its new dispatch center. Meanwhile, the LEC’s basement is more flexible. Pointing to the prison annex, Buswell told the Post, “That particular place would be easy to remodel.”

County officials have tossed around a few ideas about what to do with this whole room. They discussed relocating the driver’s license center to the LEC, although public parking is a barrier, or creating an emergency operations center dedicated to disaster response. “We have all this space potentially available, but we still have the same problem. Parking is a major issue,” Ganrude said. Describing the idea of ​​relocating the license center, he added: “You could [do that], but where are you going to park when coming here? The county is trying to acquire more land and more parking in the area. Ganrude noted that if the WPD leaves, it would help ease the parking shortage.

Ganrude said his department has no major needs for more interior space — other than potentially an extra room for investigators or evidence collection. “We have plenty of space. We just have to use it correctly,” he said.

The LEC does have needs, however, Ganrude continued. He pointed out that it had been in heavy use for around 50 years and noted that when the future of the prison and the LEC had been up in the air in recent years, some of the repairs had been postponed. “There are a lot of repairs to be done,” he said.

Winona Police Chief Tom Williams said while his department considered staying at the LEC, he and other city leaders ultimately decided a new facility would better serve the WPD’s needs. “A lot of people mistakenly believe that the new jail is going to provide new offices for the police department or the sheriff’s office, and that’s not true. It is a prison and a prison only,” he said.

The architects the city hired to design the new police and fire station called the current WPD station “substandard,” and Williams certainly agreed. “We are constantly bringing people into the secure area of ​​the police department,” he said, referring to the lack of meeting space. “We are not able to test drugs in a safe way… We clean our guns in the same room that has a fridge for our lunches and our first aid kit is stored,” he added.

“We asked the current architect to look at what it would take to increase our space,” Williams said. City officials said expanding the WPD station would cost about $4 million. “You put that kind of money into a renovation, and it’s a building we don’t own,” he said, adding that the cost would likely be recouped through higher WPD rent.

On whether a remodeled LEC could meet the needs of the WPD, Williams said: “I still don’t believe a remodel would give us the needs of a modern police department – the training facilities, the office space , the security measures that should be offered to people. The new facility would also provide covered parking for squad cars. He continued: “I think officers deserve a good training center and a good training center. I think audiences deserve an installation they feel proud of. He added: “I think a joint public safety building gives us another opportunity for an emergency operations center.”

Ganrude mentioned he offered the WPD the entire LEC basement, but said the conversation didn’t go any further. Asked about this concept, Williams said: “I’m willing to look at any option, but on the face of it I don’t know many employers who would want to put all their employees in the basement and expect that they are happy and productive. .”

Eventually, county officials may have to consider the future of the LEC. “Once the [jail] project is done, we’ll have to sit down and we should know by then what the police department will do,” Ganrude said.

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