Iron County Commissioners discuss jail plans in further detail with Cedar City officials, take field trip to site – St George News
Architect Rob Cottle of Babcock Design shows photos of the interior of a jail facility, Cedar City, Utah, March 31, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
CEDAR CITY — The Iron County Commission is moving forward with plans to build a new county jail at a site located in the largely undeveloped northeastern corner of Cedar City.
Iron County and Cedar City officials talk about plans for a new county jail during a visit to the proposed site in the Fiddler’s Canyon area, Cedar City, Utah, March 31, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
Although once known by the nickname “Automall,” the preferred location is now being referred to as the “Fiddler’s Canyon site,” as it sits some distance to the east of Automall Drive, closer to the foothills just north of the mouth of the canyon.
Thursday morning, the commission held a special two-hour meeting at Cedar City’s Festival Hall that included an hourlong presentation by architect Rob Cottle of Babock Design Group, which has designed several county jails throughout Utah over the past 12 years, including facilities in Sanpete, Kane and Uintah counties.
Cottle noted that the primary function of jails is to house criminals and to keep the community safe, while also ensuring the safety of those who work there. He then went over a number of aspects of building design as they pertain to how jails are operated.
Among the topics Cottle addressed were the advantages of a modular building design, potential building layouts for both one- and two-pod options, safety and security, along with the importance of having adequate space not just for inmate housing but also for program areas, laundry and kitchen facilities and storage.
Iron County Sheriff Ken Carpenter answers a question about plans for new county jail, Cedar City, Utah, March 31, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
Cottle also recommended that the county follow what’s called a “design assist” approach, wherein the contractor becomes a part of the design team from the onset of the project.
Using such a process, he said, will enable the county and the builders to make real-time cost estimate adjustments that will help them maximize their available budget.
“The sheriff may want this thing and then when we say, ‘Well, we can do that, but it costs this much,’ you might have to go do this other thing,” Cottle said. “But it’s very important that we go through this process, because it maximizes the value to the county.”
“Jails are not traditionally moneymakers,” Cottle acknowledged. “But you don’t want to be building them every 10 or 15 years, either. This really meant to be a 30- to 50-year facility. So we want to get it right.”
Cottle also showed photos of modern jail designs, noting that the “Stalag 13” aesthetic, with concrete walls topped with razor wire, is a thing of the past.
“We design the buildings to not look like Alcatraz,” he said. “They’re meant to blend in, to look like professional office buildings.”
The Uintah County Public Safety Complex, completed in Vernal, Utah in 2010 | Image courtesy of Layton Construction, St. George News / Cedar City News
The estimated cost to design and build a one-pod jail is about $50 million, while a full buildout of a two-pod design would run about $72 million, Cottle said.
“There’s intermediate points in between, obviously,” he said. “The decision as to which direction we’re going, that’s up to the commissioners.”
Cottle said while the two-pod version is the more expensive option, it would likely be the one to better meet the county’s needs from an operational and future growth standpoint.
“A single pod version will certainly work and will certainly be an improvement over what you currently have,” he added. “Whichever version is selected, we feel confident that we can provide a project and a building that will meet all your needs for many years to come.”
Following Cottle’s presentation, the meeting was opened up to questions from the audience, which included Cedar City Council members, Cedar City Planning Commission members, other elected officials and staff members, plus a few residents who live in the Fiddler’s Canyon area.
Iron County Commission members Mike Bleak, Marilyn Wood and Paul Cozzens, along with Sheriff Ken Carpenter and auditor Dan Jessen, during meeting to discuss plans for a new county jail, Cedar City, Utah, March 31, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
Multiple questions were focused on what kind of impact the new jail is expected to have on commercial development on the north end of town.
Danny Stewart, economic development director for Cedar City and Iron County, said in his discussions with business development experts, he’s been hearing that owners of retail stores and restaurants are more interested in market demographics than the types of buildings located nearby.
“I’ve gotten this response from three different development groups now,” Stewart said. “The type of building isn’t as important as the market for that area that’s proposed.”
“To them, it’s another building,” he added.
Stewart said since the county commission’s recent announcement that it intends to pursue building the new jail at the Fiddler’s Canyon site, he has already received multiple inquiries asking about the viability of commercial development in the area of Cedar’s north interchange, the first time in years he’s fielded such calls, he said.
Also discussed during the meeting’s Q&A session were efforts to entice the state to build a new district courthouse on adjacent property, to further minimize the distance and costs needed for inmate transportation.
“If we can get the courts out there, that’s the number one priority of the county,” said county auditor Dan Jessen. “Short of that, is there another use that the county could use it for, that would be a highest use?”
Map of proposed Fiddler’s Canyon site for Iron County Jail, with the approximately 37-acre parcel outlined in yellow and jail site marked with a red X, showing the area’s location relative to the freeway interchange on the northern end of Cedar City. | Image courtesy of Iron County Commission, St. George News / Cedar City News
The proximity of neighborhoods to the site was also discussed, with map measurements showing a direct distance of slightly more than one-half mile between the proposed jail building and the nearest existing residence. In comparison, the current Iron County Correctional Facility is located within 300 feet of the closest homes, it was noted.
Also commenting was Gregg McArthur, representing Utah’s School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which owns a sizable parcel to the south of the proposed jail site. He said the agency might be willing to swap parcels or negotiate some other type of agreement to facilitate better land uses in that area.
“We’d love to work with the city and the county to make this a great success up in that area with our lands,” McArthur said.
Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which owns property to the east and southeast of the proposed jail parcel, is interested in developing a recreational trail system in the area and connecting it to other local trails, said BLM planner Dave Jacobson.
The future of the 35-year-old current jail building and the seven acres of property upon which it sits at 2136 N. Main Street was also discussed.
Jessen noted that once the new jail has been finished and inmates are no longer being housed in the current jail, the county will also be looking to get its best use out of the existing property.
“We are committed to not leave a hulk of a building sitting there and turning it into another old hospital,” Jessen said, referring to the former community hospital building that has long sat vacant and unused at 680 S. 75 East in Cedar City.
Jessen then mentioned a few possible options for the current jail property, including commercial retail space, a recreational park, or remodeling the building and using it for county administration offices.
Attendees gather for a special Iron County Commission meeting to discuss plans for a new county jail, Cedar City, Utah, March 31, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News
Currently, the Iron County Commissioners are waiting on real estate appraisals to be completed before they can make a formal purchase offer on the property or otherwise engage in any transactions, trades or other negotiations. Once the 37-acre parcel has been purchased, the county would then need to apply to Cedar City for a zone change and a conditional use permit in order to build a jail there.
“As it is now, we’re prepared to pay fair market value, without any trade,” Commissioner Mike Bleak said, adding, “A trade may be possible. We’re not closing the door to any options.”
“The bottom line is, we’re going to try to get the best bang for our buck because it’s taxpayer money and it’s really important that we treat it as such.”
Following the meeting, approximately 20 people reconvened about a half hour later for an in-person field trip visit of the proposed jail site, where officials continued to ask and answer questions as they walked around the sagebrush covered terrain.
Iron County has placed several key pieces of jail-related information on its website, including full length videos of each of the public meetings held on the topic to date. To watch Thursday morning’s meeting, click here.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.
Jeff Richards, a native of Salt Lake City with family roots in Panguitch, lived in Moab for 20 years before joining St. George News in 2017. Jeff is a longtime journalist and secondary school teacher. He and his wife Penny are the parents of five daughters. They also have two young grandsons. Jeff and his family enjoy swimming, camping, sightseeing, reading, and taking pictures.