Council study group continues look at jail
Members of a City Council study committee continued to explore the idea of changing the function of the city jail as they worked Friday toward crafting recommendations for amendments to the new public safety facility.
Friday's session was the third time in as many days that four council members met to evaluate proposals that if accepted by the full council could significantly downsize the 100-bed jail and 20 holding cells now planned for the public safety facility, and remove Central Fire Station from the building. Committee members plan to submit their recommendations to the full council, which will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in special session to consider them, as well as looking at changing the zoning on the public safety facility site so building permits can be issued.
Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, study committee chair and the council member who proposed the committee, said the group will meet Monday to continue discussing data pertaining to the city jail and to make recommendations on the public safety building. Members didn't say what time that Monday session would be.
While Davis said he still wanted to get cost estimates on renovating Central Fire Station by increasing the size of its bay doors, committee members also have indicated they aren't sold on the idea of keeping Central at its downtown location and making renovations there, rather than placing the station in the new public safety facility. City staff members provided cost estimates earlier this week that set the cost of modernizing the station through renovations and construction of a new bay at about $7 million, while a new four-bay station in the new facility represents about $3.6 million of the $33.7 million construction cost, plus the fire department's share of $2.5 million in space it would share with Lawton Police Department.
Committee members haven't indicated how they feel about the second point of analysis: downsizing the city jail to the point that it would contain only holding cells and moving the city toward a format that doesn't keep prisoners for violation of city code. Committee members said they weren't advocating completely eliminating the jail, but Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said the council does need to explore options for making jail operations less expensive.
Warren estimated the city would spend between $750,000 and $1.6 million a year to house its prisoners in the new public safety facility, an investment of $9 million to $12 million over a 10-year period. He called the figure "money that could be used for streets and waterlines."
Friday, members continued exploring an idea they began looking at Thursday: rather than housing prisoners in the city jail, Lawton would contract with another county jail and city police would transfer those prisoners back and forth.
Because the Comanche County jail is so often at capacity it couldn't house city prisoners, committee members suggested using the Stephens County jail and have explored the potential cost of using that Duncan-based facility. But, Friday's discussions used cost estimates that were different than ones used Thursday and committee members were frustrated by the inability to settle on one set of numbers.
"How do I make an informed decision?" Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk asked, saying he wouldn't vote on the proposal until he has numbers in writing.