Bureau County buys newspaper building for new jail

January 10, 2018 GMT

PRINCETON – The Bureau County Board has chosen to remodel rather than build a new law enforcement center.

The board voted Tuesday to pay $725,000 for the 14-year-old, 21,000-plus-square-foot Bureau County Republican building, on 5.3 acres at 800 Ace Road. That money will come from reserves from the 2007 sale of Prairie View Nursing Home.

Buying the building will save taxpayers $2 million to $3 million over building a new one, board member Keith Cain said.

“It’s the best opportunity that’s come our way in years,” Sheriff Jim Reed said Wednesday.

Board members voted Dec. 12 to put a half-percent sales tax hike, to be used to pay off bonds issued for the renovation, on the March 20 primary ballot. They also agreed to pay BKV Group of Chicago, an architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and engineering firm, up to $10,000 to help pass the referendum.

If it passes, the sales tax will increase from 6.75 percent to 7.25 percent. The additional tax will expire in 20 years or less, once the bonds are retired.

“I think the county board is being fiscally responsible with the taxpayer’s money by doing this,” Reed said, noting that the tax will add only 50 cents to every $100 of select sales, many of which will be made by people visiting the county.

“It seems to be the best option for us and for the taxpayers.”

A half-percent public safety sales tax already in place in Bureau County brings in about $960,000 a year.

If the new sales tax collects that same amount, $750,000 of the new funds can be applied to paying off the new debt, board member Dale Anderson has said.

In November 2010, about 80 percent of voters nixed a referendum that would have allowed the county to issue up to $15 million in bonds to build a new jail from the ground up.

The BCR building, owned by Shaw Media, the same company that owns Sauk Valley Media’s Daily Gazette in Sterling and the Telegraph in Dixon, no longer accommodates the needs of the newspaper, said Don Bricker, a regional Shaw Media executive and SVM’s publisher.

“We feel very good that we can partner with the county in a way that’s going to repurpose this building into a long-term future that’s better for all the citizens of Bureau County,” Bricker said.

It will be at least 4 months before the sale is finalized and renovation can begin, Cain said.

“We have a design, and an architect working on it,” he added.

The current county jail and sheriff’s office at 22 Park Ave. W., built in 1973 to accommodate 24 inmates, now houses up to 36 men and women, and so no longer is big enough.

The layout makes surveillance difficult, and so causes safety issues, and the facility does not meet state and federal standards, including codes that require a certain distance between male and female inmates. That means if more than four women are to be housed at the same time, the overflow must be housed at another jail, at the county’s expense.

It also has plumbing, roofing and other structural issues typical of an aging building.

The Republican, which also publishes the Putnam County Record, Tonica News, Illinois Valley Living and other niche publications, is looking for new space in Princeton, said Jim Dunn, editor and general manager.

“We believe that it is important to maintain the offices of the Bureau County Republican in Princeton and Bureau County, and that’s what we’re going to do.”