ARPA funds set aside for community corrections, highway buildings

Years-long plans for a new community corrections building and renovated county highway department are underway again.

County officials last week approved spending $1 million from money the county has from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to start the designs of both projects on their shared property at 1071 and 1051 Hospital Road.

Elected officials serving on the Johnson County Board of Commissioners’ ARPA special committee approved the funding allocation unanimously on Friday to get the ball rolling on the two projects. Both projects are separate but connected in a “domino effect,” because they share a property.

The community corrections building would be the largest of the two projects, with an estimated cost over $15.7 million, said Wes Harrison, the county commissioners’ project manager. A new building is expected to be about 32,000 square feet with two floors. The first floor would house community corrections, and the second would house adult probation, which is currently located on Jefferson Street in downtown Franklin.

These rough costs are still preliminary until the designs are completed, Harrison said. The reason designs for both highway and community corrections needed approval at the same time was in part because one of the highway department’s salt barn has to relocate to make room for the new community corrections building.

The salt barn now sits behind the current community corrections building, and that piece of land will be the site of the new building, officials say.

A new community corrections building has been a long time coming. Different plans for a new facility were proposed over the years but fell through for various reasons. The current building, which is essentially a pole barn, was meant to be temporary, but it has been used for over 20 years now.

Previous plans for the new building were discussed in 2015 when the plan was to build a community corrections center on 1.8 acres of property at Drake and Hospital roads. Those plans were rejected at the time by the Franklin Board of Zoning Appeals because the building was deemed too big for the property.

That property is now being used for a new combined county health department and coroner’s office.

Community Corrections oversees programs such as work release, home detention, day reporting and community service for offenders in the county. It also connects offenders with rehabilitation programs, such as anger management, family programs and classes that teach people how to make better decisions. The department has long outgrown its space.

The county highway department complex is also in need of an upgrade. The designs approved on Friday will also provide plans to renovate the highway department. Its current projected cost is $13 million, before the official designs.

A part of that includes new salt barn facilities, which needed to be replaced anyway, officials said.

“It’s put together in a haphazard way,” said Ron Deer, county council member. “I worked at the airport for over 20 years, our salt barns there were concrete, not six or seven feet of plywood stuck together.”

With that, the ARPA committee also approved $1.2 million in funds on Friday to construct and relocate a new large salt barn, small salt facility and a brine tank pad.

County Commissioner Kevin Walls described relocating the salt barn as “the first domino to fall” in the overall projects for the community corrections and highway departments.

How the remainder of the cost of the projects is to be funded is to be determined, after the designs are finished. Officials have discussed using some money from the local income tax, or LIT, to fund the jail expansion, to pay for the new community corrections facility.

The county has spent a good chunk of its $30.7 million in ARPA funds in the last year. About $15.8 million total is left for county officials to spend.

So far, the county has allocated $3 million for street repairs, $2 million for JCFiber to expand services, $1.9 million for the Johnson County Animal Shelter expansion, $1.7 million for county employee stipends, $1 million for the county Crisis Intervention Team, $166,000 for the county surveyor’s watershed project, $127,000 for EMA radios, $467,000 for Interstate 69 construction utility casings, and $100,000 for food pantry grants.

County officials also earmarked roughly $8 million total to build a new mental health facility, and around $5 million was set aside for the construction of the health department and coroner’s office shared building. All of that money has not officially been spent yet.

For the upcoming construction of the health department and coroner’s office, Harrison told the ARPA committee additional funds may need to be appropriated for the construction. Estimates for construction are between $5 and 6 million, and he expects the final cost to be at least more than $5 million.

He said an additional $1 million to $1.75 million may be needed to complete the project. Part of that also includes funds for new furniture and equipment that will be installed, particularly on the coroner’s side.

No action was taken on that additional funding yet because the county plans to open bids for the project in March. That will give officials a better idea of the total cost, Harrison said. The project is on track for a spring groundbreaking, he said.

As for the highway and community corrections projects, those funding proposals will next go before the county commissioners and county council for a final vote.