FOREST CITY — The Winnebago County Public Safety Center is expected to be completed by early May.

Inmates will be moved there in late May or early June, Sheriff Dave Peterson said. 

The facility, located north of Lichtsinn RV, will include a 40-bed jail, a communications center and administrative offices. 

The current jail is located across the street from the courthouse. The facility originally was was built as a hospital in 1934 and was converted into a jail in 1976.

"There were all kinds of issues with it," Peterson said. 

State jail inspectors have told county officials "we are running out of time" to build a new facility that meets current standards, Peterson said. 

The county's average inmate population is nine to 10 individuals, and the existing jail only has nine beds, meaning there's no way to segregate different classifications of inmates as required, according to Peterson.

"We have been shipping our prisoners to Kossuth County for the past two years," he said, noting this costs $50 per person per day. 

Building a new jail saves the county money in the long run because it will no longer have to pay for them to be housed elsewhere, according to Peterson. 

Plans for a new jail began around six years ago. 

It took several revisions of the plan and two failed referendums before county voters finally approved a $4.6 million bond issue in May 2015. 

That plan called for a 22-bed jail based on a projected increase in the inmate population. 

Last year the county board of supervisors approved spending an additional $130,000 for two more cell pods, increasing the number of beds to 40.

Even with that additional expense, the overall cost for the project remains on track to stay on budget, according to county officials. 

Hancock County plans to send most of its inmates to Winnebago County once the new jail opens. The two counties have considered combining dispatch operations, but that discussion is on hold indefinitely, Peterson said. 

The new jail will have separate spaces for the male general population, female general population, male maximum security, female maximum security and inmates who have communicable diseases and need to be quarantined.

It also will have an indoor exercise space. Peterson said the current jail has a fenced-in exercise yard for inmates, but it's not conducive to year-round use because of the harsh winter weather in North Iowa.  

The public safety center also will have a training room, something the current jail doesn't have.

The working conditions in the new facility will be much better for staff than in the current jail, according to Peterson. 

The general contractor for the project is Midwest Construction Consultants of Houghton. AIA of Bennington, Nebraska, designed the facility. 

Peterson said an open house for the public safety center will take place once the facility is completed. 

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