Inside a cell at the new Greene County Jail. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

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Construction workers are reportedly in the final sprint to the finish to complete the $150 million Greene County Jail by the first of May.

Kevin Barnes, Greene County director of resource management, briefed the three-member Greene County Commission on the latest construction work occurring in the jail on April 14. He sped through a list of the pieces hitting completion on the exterior of the 325,000-square-foot building that sits on 23 acres of land south of the Springfield-Branson National Airport.

“They are mostly working on the fencing, the gate operation, the furniture,” Barnes said. “The paving was completed last week.”

Why care?

Greene County taxpayers are covering the costs of the new $150 million jail, which will stand on West Division Street just south of the Springfield-Branson National Airport. The jail will have a capacity of 1,242 inmate beds.

Barnes believes that most supply chain issues are in the project’s past. For example, construction-rated glass is a product that has been subject to high demand and shipping delays. As a result, doors, windows and other glass items were ordered well in advance of their expected installation days. As of April 14, Barnes reported that the glass was in the building.

“The security glass is installed out there,” Barnes said. “That's one of the things that had the long lead time and we were worried about it.”

Pushing toward the end of April

Data taken from the Missouri Economic Resource and Information Center showed that Missouri added more than 16,000 construction jobs between February 2021 and February 2022, a jump of 9.76 percent for the employment group. More than 138,000 Missourians work in the construction trades.

DeWitt and Associates and J.E. Dunn Construction are the managers at risk for the jail project, which means they have a set budget and timeline to follow in order to avoid footing the bill for any overages, with some legally protected exceptions. Barnes said construction workers are punching off finishing items on the project’s master checklist each day. At an already busy time for construction across southwest Missouri, the workers are pushing the pace.

“It's just the panic of the last couple of weeks,” Barnes said. “A lot of the J.E. Dunn and DeWitt staff are moving on to other places, and so of course, they want to wrap that up, too.”

The inner workings of the new Greene County Jail, as seen during a tour in 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

Doors, enclosures and other electronically controlled devices are undergoing testing. Even simple items like water fountains and water bottle fillers will be tested before a single staff member or jail inmate occupies the building.

Maj. Royce Denny, a deputy sheriff, told the county commissioners that he and Sheriff Jim Arnott were personally walking through the jail and testing the electronically controlled doors on each holding cell.

“The sheriff and I were out there touring and inspecting all of the jail cells, which took a better part of our afternoon,” Denny said. “No problems were found at all. They've done a phenomenal job with the construction and the follow-up on everything.”

In November 2017, voters in Greene County approved a ½-cent sales tax increase that was initially projected to generate more than $25 million per year. The list of projects that the Greene County Commission of 2017 pledged included jail expansion, hiring of new jail staff members, operating expenses for the jail, additional operating expenses in the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, emergency radio system improvements, courthouse renovations, mental health programs and more.

Jail capacity and a big move

Arnott, citing security concerns, has not disclosed an exact date or time that inmates would be moved from the existing Greene County Jail on North Boonville Avenue to the new jail at West Division Street and North Haseltine Road.

Inmates could be moved anytime after April 29, according to Barnes.

The current jail has 991 beds, and 601 of those beds are in the main jail on Boonville Avenue. The remaining 390 are on the west side of Boonville in a temporary building. The new jail will have 1,242 inmate beds on the day it opens.

The new sheriff's office is also part of the new facility, and it will take up 62,000 square feet. A separate building for training, evidence storage and patrol vehicle outfitting and maintenance is also on site at the new campus.

The new jail is divided into 20 different housing pods, with inmate capacities ranging from 24-56 inmates in a pod. The new jail will also have 16 rooms for court appearances by video teleconferencing, which means inmates will generally not leave the jail in order to make court appearances in downtown Springfield.

The majority of the inmates in the Greene County Jail are being held for pretrial court proceedings, and have not been convicted and sentenced.

The new Greene County Jail is located on West Division Street in Springfield. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

Springfield’s municipal inmates

The Greene County Commission and the Greene County Sheriff's Office plan to host a cornerstone dedication for the new jail sometime after the project is finished and the jail staff goes to work at the new building.

“We're just really looking forward to getting out there and getting moved in, and start operating the facility,” Denny said.

In 2017, Greene County and the City of Springfield reached an agreement that ended a legal dispute over the housing of inmates arrested on the suspicion of committing municipal offenses. Per the terms of the agreement, Greene County agreed to house up to 48 Springfield municipal inmates at any given time, with the opportunity to house more at a cost to the city of Springfield.

“Municipal prisoner” is defined as a person charged only with a Springfield ordinance violation or serving a jail sentence for a Springfield ordinance violation, without also having corresponding charges or convictions in state or federal court that could serve as the basis for their detention.

As reported by the Springfield News-Leader, Springfield sued Arnott and the Greene County Commission in July 2015 on the basis that the sheriff broke an intergovernmental agreement dating back to 1997 that called for Greene County to house inmates arrested on municipal charges.

On April 4, Springfield Zone 2 City Councilman Abe McGull asked Police Chief Paul Williams about housing municipal inmates in the new jail.

“I had an opportunity to go out there last week and tour it. Are we going to have the same number of bed spaces?” McGull asked.

“The 48 beds that were decided upon in the consent decree (legal agreement) — that's exactly going to be our guaranteed spots for municipal-only prisoners,” Williams said.

To date, Springfield has not exceeded 48 municipal inmates at any given time since reaching an agreement with Greene County for the housing of municipal inmates.

“We negotiated a contract with the sheriff about a year ago; we haven't had to utilize it,” Williams said. “We would pay for additional beds if we needed to, and so we'll have the space if we need it.”

McGull asked about the length of the agreement between Springfield and Greene County.

“The consent decree, the result of the lawsuit is indefinite,” Williams said. “There is no sunset on that whatsoever, so those 48 beds guaranteed for municipal prisoners, should we need them, are guaranteed forever.”

According to the terms of the 2017 addendum, the City of Springfield committed to provide $2 million toward construction of additional jail capacity in Greene County through an annual payment of $200,000 for a period of 10 years.