Long-awaited jail project starts with ground-breaking June 17

Ground is ceremonially broken to signal the start of the Huntington County Jail expansion project on Wednesday, June 17. The project, which will see 130 beds added to the jail, is expected to be completed by February 2022. Pictured are (from left), Scott Carnegie and Phillip Wink, both of DLZ, which designed the jail addition; Ron Kline, Huntington County Council; Larry Buzzard and Tom Wall, Huntington County Commissioners; Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton; Rob Miller, Huntington County Commissioners; Terry Miller, Huntington County Council; and Chris Sosebee and Brad Knable, both of Weigand Construction, which is building the jail addition.
Ground is ceremonially broken to signal the start of the Huntington County Jail expansion project on Wednesday, June 17. The project, which will see 130 beds added to the jail, is expected to be completed by February 2022. Pictured are (from left), Scott Carnegie and Phillip Wink, both of DLZ, which designed the jail addition; Ron Kline, Huntington County Council; Larry Buzzard and Tom Wall, Huntington County Commissioners; Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton; Rob Miller, Huntington County Commissioners; Terry Miller, Huntington County Council; and Chris Sosebee and Brad Knable, both of Weigand Construction, which is building the jail addition. Photo by Steve Clark.

A highly anticipated project to expand the Huntington County Jail got underway with a ground- breaking ceremony on Wednesday, June 17.

A parking lot at the jail, which is located at 332 E. State St., in Huntington, was the site of the ceremony. That lot will disappear as part of the project, which will see the jail expanded toward Warren Street. In all, 31,190 square feet will be added to the facility, with completion expected in February 2022.

Tom Wall, president of the Huntington County Commissioners, and Sheriff Chris Newton both noted that the catalyst for the jail’s expansion was an occupancy surge tied to state legislation in 2015. This legislation reclassified Class D felons as Level 6 offenders. Previously, Class D felons were sent to prisons in the Indiana Department of Correction system; now, these reclassified felons stay in local jails.

As a result of the legislation, the Huntington County Jail, which was built to house 99 inmates, has seen its occupancy soar as high as 175.
Weigand Construction, of Fort Wayne, will build the jail expansion, which was designed by DLZ, of Indianapolis. Chris Sosebee, Weigand’s director of business development, noted that the legislation and the resulting need for larger jails has kept his company busy.

“This is one of four (jails) that we’re currently working on and we’ve completed 13 in the state of Indiana,” he noted. “So, rest assured that we have the leadership, the relevant experience and the needed resources to successfully complete this project.”

Wall said he was grateful that building onto the jail, versus building an entirely new jail, was an option. He commended Newton and his predecessors for their care of the facility, which was built in 1982.

“It’s in very, very good shape,” Wall observed, “and that’s why we decided to build here.”

Newton hailed the groundbreaking as a “historic moment” in Huntington County, noting that there have only been five jails in the county’s history, dating back to 1834. He thanked the Huntington County Commissioners for their efforts to make the moment happen.

“Very early on, they realized with these Level 6s and the people we were holding, it wasn’t going to diminish, it wasn’t going to go down, and they took this head on,” he said. “They came up with a plan, working with DLZ. They knew that piling people on top of one another was not going to create change, it wasn’t safe for our employees and it wasn’t safe for the inmates.”

Newton also praised the Huntington County Council for making sure that funds were available for the project, which totals $17,057,900.

“They had to make some very tough decisions,” he said. “Anytime you’re asking the community to shell out millions of dollars for a building, especially for the jail, that only a small percentage is ever going to be in, is sometimes a tough sell.

“But they made those decisions. They got it done.”

The expansion project will see 130 beds added to the jail. Newton said having more room in the facility will create a safer environment for the jail’s staff to work in.

“They work in the harshest conditions,” he remarked. “They work with hundreds of attitudes that are all different; they all want to fight, they all want to argue.

“And they come in every single day, even when we had 170 inmates, they never complained. They came in, they did their job.”

In addition to more beds, the expanded jail will feature space for training, education and treatment programs, which Newton says will be an asset to inmates.

“We’re finally going to be able to segregate people where they need to be segregated and start rehabilitation programs within our department that we’ve never really had, because we were never really designed for that,” he observed.

Other new features in the expanded jail will include a drive-thru vehicle sally port; an enlarged and renovated kitchen space; a protected space for video arraignment; expanded video visitation for the jail’s populace; a squad room for training and education; a larger laundry room to accommodate additional demand; and an expanded and renovated medical area.

Ultimately, Newton said that the expanded jail would help make Huntington County a safer place.

“Public safety is, and should be, the most paramount part of any community,” he said. “I’m glad to say that we have that here.”