Upgrades coming to Anoka County Jail

Improvements and upgrades to the “nerve center” of the Anoka County Jail to improve safety and security have been given the green light by the Anoka County Board.

On the recommendation of its Finance and Capital Improvements Committee, the county board has approved a professional services contract with Elert and Associates, Stillwater, to include design through construction management.

The committee also authorized staff to go out for bids on the project once the design work is completed.

The jail’s nerve center is in dire need of repair, according to County Commissioner Matt Look, chairperson of the Finance and Capital Improvements Committee.

“The jail nerve center is radically outdated and does not meet today’s standards,” said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

According to Andrew Dykstra, county director of facilities management and construction, design work is expected to take two or three months.

As a result, it is likely to be January and February 2014 before the jail upgrades take place, Dykstra.

The project has an estimated price tag of $900,000 with money allocated in the Anoka County Building Fund for the work, he said.

“This is an extremely big project,” Dykstra said.

Upgrades will include the central command center, common systems interface platform, video management system, intercom and public address systems and uninterruptible and electrical systems.

While some updates have occurred at the jail since it opened in 1983, much of the equipment is original and does not function properly anymore, according to Dykstra.

For example, the images on the video management system in the central command center, which monitors all activities in the jail, are very fuzzy and the system that controls the 400 to 500 doors in the jail does not always work, Dykstra said.

Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart said that the monitoring system images are so fuzzy that it is not possible to tell an inmate from a jail deputy.

And when the system shows a door has not locked and it is a false alarm, staff have to investigate to make sure that the door is indeed locked and an inmate has not left their cell, he said.

“This is a security issue,” Stuart said.

There are also issues with the elevators, while the PA and intercom systems are outdated and not fully functional, he said.

According to Dykstra, the jail staff is constantly battling blown fuses because the low voltage front end equipment is tied into high voltage field units.

As a result, “we keep many boxes of fuses throughout the facility,” Dykstra said.

Current furniture in the control center – plastic laminate covered particle board – is falling apart, while most of the upgrades that have taken place have been limited in scope and were piecemeal in nature, he said.

Maintenance costs have increased and a 2012 inspection by the Minnesota Department of Corrections pointed out some of the command center issues, Dykstra said.

There are future plans to replace the existing doors over a period of years, but that will take time because the cost is $1,000 each, he said.

According to Stuart, the jail’s physical capacity is 248 inmates, but its functional capacity for “flexibility in moving people around” is 198.

There are some 100 people employed at the jail spread over different shifts, Stuart said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]