Community and law enforcement leaders from Clay County and the City of Vermillion joined together late Tuesday morning to break ground during a ceremony on the site where a new Clay County Jail and community Law Enforcement Center will stand in about two years.
“It’s been, in talking with (Sheriff) Andy Howe about 20+ years that this project has been in the works, at a minimum,” said Jim Peterson, president and CEO of the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC). “As we all know, public infrastructure must be updated and expanded to continue to improve the quality of life in our communities, especially when it comes to matters of public safety.”
The groundbreaking ceremony, he said, is a celebration of the local community taking a big step toward making that improvement.
The VCDC, along with Beckenhauer Construction of Norfolk, Nebraska, the project’s general contractor, helped organize Tuesday’s ceremony. Other entities involved were Clay County, the City of Vermillion, the Clay County Sheriff’s Department and the Vermillion Police Department.
“We want to thank everybody who helped make this project a reality: Clay County Commissioners, Vermillion Police Department, the City of Vermillion, JLG Architects, Beckenhauer Construction and all of the people of Clay County who are here today and worked on it for the last 20+ years,” Peterson said.
The groundbreaking took place at 1250 Stanford St. – an address where nothing exists now. The ceremony was held on the edge of a 50-acre freshly harvested cornfield west of the Polaris Distribution Center that the City of Vermillion purchased approximately a year ago.
The jail and law enforcement center will sit on a seven-acre plat of that land. A bulldozer cleared a small portion of the property to provide a place for Tuesday’s gathering.
Sheriff Andy Howe has spent nearly his entire law enforcement career in Clay County dealing with the shortcomings of the present county jail and sheriff’s offices while working toward the day when construction of a new facility will begin. He noted that Tuesday’s groundbreaking comes after seven straight years of active planning and efforts by local citizens to make a new jail and law enforcement center a reality.
Howe mentioned a 2018 consultant’s study of the county jail and law enforcement center that revealed dangerous shortcomings and, in turn, helped local leaders focus on solutions and ultimately conclude that new buildings were needed.
“The history that we’ve had these past several years took us through two bond elections, narrowed the focus and the desire of the voters as to what they were willing to pay for and what they were willing to see,” the sheriff said. “In the end, we came out with a design and a plan for a new jail and law enforcement center that will be modern in comparison to a 111-year-old gray bar dungeon which certainly is not what is expected by modern society.
“We will have, for however brief a moment, the most modern jail in the country when it’s done,” Howe said, adding that the construction will take about two years. “We’ll get there.”
A $42.8 million, 30-year bond issue to finance the construction of the new jail and law enforcement center received overwhelming support from Clay County voters in a Nov. 8, 2022, bond election. An earlier bond issue held in 2021 failed. The 2021 plan called for constructing new facilities with the plan to abandon the Clay County Courthouse. Both the courthouse and the current law enforcement center, which were constructed in 1912 and 1989, respectively, would have been vacated and voters soundly rejected those plans.
Construction crews will soon start building the 54,000 square foot facility. The jail will house 54 beds with the potential to add 44 beds in the future. The law enforcement center will contain offices for the Clay County Sheriff’s Department and the Vermillion Police Department.
The agencies will also have shared support spaces including a breakroom, locker rooms, evidence processing and storage, a multi-purpose room and interview rooms.
Also included in the facility are a training room located off the public lobby for staff training and other uses, a 911 Dispatch Center, Emergency Management Office and alternate enclosed parking garage for agency fleet vehicles and Emergency Management equipment.
Clay County Commission Chairman Betty Smith began her remarks by expressing thanks to all who worked to make the construction of the new facilities a reality.
“It’s taken us quite a few years to get here – bond issues, land transfers, lots of contracts and details – and we’ve got a lot of contracts and details ahead of us, as well,” she said. “But, as has been said several times, we wouldn’t be here without partners. The City of Vermillion and Vermillion Police Department have been superb partners all along the way.
“As a county, as a community, we get a lot out of that partnership,” Smith said. “The fact that the police department and sheriff’s department share the same space – that doesn’t happen everywhere and it increases the effectiveness of both organizations.”
She noted that Howe, alone, has spent thousands of hours in the last few years being involved in the recent studies that determined the county’s needs and the best way to solve them.
“We will have a better facility because of him,” Smith said.
She also singled out the efforts of fellow County Commissioner Travis Mockler, who worked with Howe at hundreds of hours of meetings.
“He has given all of these hours to ensure that this law enforcement center and jail will continue to serve us for many years ahead,” Smith said. “This is not a 10-year solution. This is a 30-, 40-, 50-year solution and it’s exactly what we needed.”
She hailed the efforts of local people who served on the Citizens for a New Public Safety Center committee.
“The public education you did was incomparable and it made the difference,” Smith said. “I don’t know of any other county that has passed a jail initiative with 60% of the vote and that’s something to be proud of, because I think what you did under the leadership of Steve Waller was offer the case for a new facility. It was a good case and that’s why we’re here today.”
Mayor Jon Cole said the construction of a new law enforcement center represents the community’s commitment to the safety of its residents as is a testament to the dedication of providing law enforcement officers with the tools and resources they need.
“They (law enforcement officers) deserve a facility that matches their dedication and professionalism and this new center will not only provide them with a modern workplace, but also serve as a symbol of our unwavering support and gratitude of their service,” he said.
Cole expressed thanks to all who contributed to making the new jail and law enforcement center a reality.
“Let us remember that a law enforcement center is not just about bricks and mortar; it’s about fostering a strong community partnership,” he said. “We must continue to work together to ensure that this center becomes a hub of trust and cooperation between our law enforcement officers and the residents they serve.”
“About three-and-a-half years ago, we were meeting in City Hall, meeting to get selected for this project,” said Joe Beckenhauer, president of Beckenhauer Construction. “Since then, we’ve been able to … for three-and-a-half years, live and breathe this and hope and plan and desire with you guys every day. We’re excited, just as you are, to finally see this come to fruition, see the dirt move and really get started.”