A look inside Clay County’s courthouse and 109-year-old jail

KELOLAND.com Original

VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — Clay County residents will soon be voting on a new $41 million courthouse, jail and law enforcement facility after the county commission decided to issue General Obligation Bonds for the project at the end of March.

On Wednesday, Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe took KELOLAND News on a tour of the building, through the jail and the courthouse, to show us the issues of space and age that plague the structure.

Watch the full tour:

The first stop on the tour of the jail is the visitation rooms, which Sheriff Andy Howe says are too small, not handicap accessible and too close to the Sheriff offices, which means staff must be extra cautious when discussing details of cases so as not to be overheard.

Next, stepping through into the jail proper you can see the two cells located in the new portion of the building, which was built in the 1980s. One of these has been configured to serve potential inmates who for any reason, should not be in a cell with a raised bed.

Stepping back in time, into the jailer’s office, a cramped, multi-purpose room used to mark the outer perimeter of the courthouse. In the connecting hallway, a lack of storage in the jail can be seen, where items are placed in bags and totes on the floor for lack of better places to put them.

The Sheriff then took KELOLAND News around the corner, taking us into the first of the jails original cells, an iron box with bunks, a toilet and a currently non-functioning sink. He points out the pitcher above the sink which inmates can use to wash their hands. A temporary solution until the unit can be repaired.

Sheriff Howe also noted the cot stored beneath the bunk, a quick fix to issues of capacity, which would allow this already small cell hold an additional third. Moving back through the jailers station is the laundry and food prep area, really no more than a hallway leading to another cell block.

Here, there is a closer look at that cell block, which is currently empty, with its residents spending time in the modest day room down the hall. Their personal possessions stacked up, with a CD Walkman playing music through a pair of headphones. Howe says the inmates likely have too many personal possessions in their cells, but that it is something the department will allow so long as behavior is not an issue.

Farther down the hallway into a currently occupied section of the cell block, more problems become apparent as Howe points out structural damage caused by water leakage on the exterior wall of the jail, likely caused by cracks and splits such as this on the exterior of the building.

Within the jail, Howe says this linear hallway layout is an issue. Ideally, he says, jailers at their station should have a full direct view into all the cells from a single vantage point. Currently, they do not.

Moving through the jail, we pass a disused shower in the corner, now used for storage.

A hallway leading from the intake garage serves as the booking area for the department. It also houses what is functionally the jails only shower. Here we see the door to the bathroom, which has two holes cut to allow an officer to observe the floor and ceiling while still attempting to afford some privacy to the inmate.

A big issue with the jail becomes apparent in the route through which jailers take inmates from the cell blocks to the court room. To exit the jail, the inmate must pass directly through the jailers work space before entering into the ground floor of the courthouse. They are then often taken down the hall and into the elevator for the ride up to the third floor courtroom.

Howe also expressed discomfort with the route’s proximity to the front doors, providing increased opportunity for a potential escape.

The tour next visited the basement, where Howe showed KELOLAND News the maintenance room for the elevator, pointing out the degradation of the brick foundation of the courthouse.

The boiler room was to follow, a spacious area with a floor that was surprisingly clean and clear compared to the rest of the spaces previously seen. Howe says this lack of clutter is attributed to the buildings plumbing issues.

When a toilet clogs in the jail above, Howe says this room floods with sewage.

This problem has prompted local plumbers to install a special pipe, seen in the video above, which can be lowered to the stairs, allowing them to administer cleaning chemicals without stepping into the sewage.

The final stop on the tour is the county commission room, where the door cannot be closed due to the stench of mildew that would otherwise build up.

The Clay County Courthouse is clearly a historic and beautiful building, full of history. But Howe and the other proponents of a new facility say it simply no longer functions as it needs to. They say that while the structure clearly has a future purpose in the community, it should not be as the center of the county government. What that future is however, has not been determined.

Approval of the project now lies in the hands of the voters, who will get make their decision in the upcoming June 8 election.

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