County discusses new highway garage, jail booking area

Wood County Highway Garage on East Poe Road


BG Independent News


Every fall, the Wood County Commissioners listen to funding requests from county offices. And every year, the commissioners weed through the requests and reject the ones they feel aren’t necessary or can wait.

This year, they have discussed yanking a couple biggies – $8.3 million to expand the county jail booking area, and $2.5 million for a new county highway garage and office space.

It’s not that the commissioners don’t see the value in those projects – they just don’t see room for the nearly $11 million in the county’s 2018 budget. But in both cases, the commissioners are planning ahead for the possible building projects.

The county engineer’s highway garage, located at the corner of East Poe Road and Thurstin Avenue, is at least 60 years old.

“Things are showing their age out there,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “We’re at the point where we’re going to have to do some work there – or move.”

Over the decades, the open space around the highway garage, which sits on the edge of Bowling Green State University, has been gobbled up for other uses. So there is no land left at the current site for expansion.

The commissioners and Wood County Engineer John Musteric discussed the possibility of moving the highway garage out to county land in the East Gypsy Lane complex. That location already has a fuel facility, and it has good access to county roads. It would also allow the county to sell the land currently used for the highway garage – which should be desirable property on the north side of BGSU.

Though the commissioners may reject the $2.5 million request, they did discuss hiring a consultant to study the needs and costs of a new highway garage. That consultant would cost an estimated $10,000, Kalmar said.

Photo of crowded booking area at Wood County jail

As for the sheriff’s request for an expansion of the jail booking area – this will not be the first time it got the ax. A few years ago, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn had to make a choice – add more beds to the county jail or add more space to the jail booking area.

The jail expansion was priced at about $3 million and the booking area reconfiguration was priced at about $5 million. And since the county was already spending money by paying other counties to house Wood County’s overflow inmates, the 75-bed jail expansion project won out.

A few years ago, the basic architectural work was done on the booking area project, and those plans were refreshed this year – with the estimated cost jumping to $8.3 million. The expansion would reconfigure the booking area to add more holding cells and move the medical area closer to booking.

But Kalmar said he does expect an architectural firm to be selected for the booking project in 2018, with possible construction to follow in 2019.

The sheriff and Jail Administrator Rhonda Gibson have described how the current holding cells are insufficient for the number of prisoners that get processed at the jail. The issue is worsened when there are “very challenging” inmates who have severe mental health issues, are going through detox, or have serious medical needs.

Several times, inmates have to be doubled up in holding cells. “Those holding cells aren’t meant to be double occupied,” Gibson said. Other times, prisoners have to be temporarily housed in the visitation room.

There are just too many prisoners who cannot be placed into the regular jail cells because they need close observation due to suicidal issues, medical problems, mental health problems, intoxication, or they are detoxing from heroin or alcohol.

Kalmar agreed that since the county justice center was built in 1989, the jail population has changed with many more women, mental health issues and drug addictions.

“It really affects the booking area of the jail dramatically,” Kalmar said.