Cape Girardeau County is currently in the early stages of renovating the historic courthouse and county jail in Jackson, with county officials stating they hope to have a finalized design and contractor picked by the end of this year.
The county commission approved a contract with Navigate Building Solutions, a St. Louis-based consulting firm specializing in the governmental facility projects, in July 2021 to start the process and create a new facility needs study for the county.
Navigate previously worked with the county in 2018 during the new Cape Girardeau County Courthouse construction project. Navigate helped the county put together the design and cost parameters for the new courthouse before the project went out for bid.
County Commissioner Paul Koeper said the goal is to have a design-build team on board the project by the end of 2022, and they are about a month away from setting a budget for the project.
“We are still going through the process of trying to figure out what we can afford,” Koeper said. “We still need to come up with the number of beds we want to add at the jail and what we want to use the courthouse for.”
Koeper said Navigate has a pricing program that will estimate how much different aspects of the projects will cost. Based on that report, the county will decide what specifications and budget they will present to design-build teams during the bidding process.
Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said the decision was made to combine the old courthouse renovation and possible jail expansion to save time and money, especially with the two projects being located so close geographically.
“We are trying to build economies of scale and leverage our dollars, so there’s only one mobilization cost,” Tracy said. “Hopefully, it will be a big enough project that a contractor has some options in the event of inclement weather and would still be able to get it all done at once.”
Tracy added that by combining the projects, there will be less disruption to the uptown Jackson area than if the projects were constructed separately.
The former Cape Girardeau County Courthouse was built in 1908 and has remained empty since the new county courthouse opened in May 2020. Koeper said they hope to move some of the county’s offices into the historic courthouse, but some major overhauls – including to the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems – are needed before the space can be utilized.
“The good thing about the courthouse is that it’s currently unoccupied,” Koeper said. “We should get decent prices for the project because contractors won’t have to worry about working around anyone. They will be able to shut off the electricity and water without any issues. We’re talking about tearing down major walls to open the space up, so it is a pretty good job.”
Commissioner Charlie Herbst said that the building’s structural integrity has been checked three times in the past 12 years, most recently by Navigate. “The courthouse has passed all of the structural inspections,” Herbst said. “The envelope, as they call it, is in good shape.”
The Cape Girardeau County Jail, which was last expanded in 2002, is built to house 218 people. Jail Administrator Richard Rushin said the jail typically houses around 260 people each day.
“People say we should let minor offenses go and let them out on the street, and believe me, we have already passed that point,” Tracy said. “Right now, we are actually looking at the space we have and trying to balance different felonies, which is not good.”
Tracy said the county’s first goal was to find a dedicated revenue stream for the sheriff’s operations, which would help them be able to afford more resources and staff members. With the law enforcement half cent sales tax passing in 2020, the county was able to switch their focus to fixing the jail’s space constraints.
“Having the resources with the law enforcement tax has allowed us to move forward and look at what an expansion would look like,” Tracy said. “We are planning for the future in a way that will meet the needs of the county not just for the next 20 years, but hopefully beyond that. Unfortunately crime isn’t going down, but we need to be able to protect and serve the community.”
The county has rolled back its COVID-19 emergency operations, returning to normalcy with the knowledge they gained during the pandemic.
“If we have to do this again or if we have a different kind of disaster, whether there’s a tornado or some cataclysmic event, we at least now know who should be at the table as you have these emergency discussions,” Tracy said.
The county recently discontinued its COVID-19 briefings, led by the county’s emergency management team and including personnel from the health department, area hospitals, local schools and Southeast Missouri State University. The last virtual meeting took place on March 3.
“We had those calls for over two years and we had the leadership through the county’s emergency management office to coordinate that,” Tracy said. “I think the calls highlighted the importance of sharing information across the county and with other organizations. These entities usually operate in their own silos, and that creates blind spots for us as a county.”
Herbst said the county is much more prepared for a disaster than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the emergency management team working closely with various organizations throughout the county over the past two years.
“We didn’t close any businesses in this county,” Tracy said. “All things considered – people were able to go to school, go to work and do what they needed to do with minimal restrictions.”
The county has been promised $15.3 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan, but is not obligated to allocate those funds until 2024 and the county has until 2026 to actually spend all the funding.
Tracy said they are able to use the first $10 million for general government services, but are waiting for additional guidance before committing the rest of the funding to a specific project. “There’s new guidance coming out it seems like all the time,” Tracy said.
MOSWIN Radio System
Over the past year, the county finished its switch to the Missouri Statewide Interoperability Network (MOSWIN) radio system. County officials, law enforcement and rural fire districts now all use the same radio system – as do public safety officials from the City of Jackson and City of Cape Girardeau.
“Communication was a problem because we had different systems on different beds,” Tracy said. “If you can’t communicate, you can’t operate, so we’ve consolidated. Everybody now has the same carrier on the same system.”
Herbst added that the county received a $500,000 grant to add an additional MOSWIN tower in the county. “Once that’s built out, the State of Missouri will actually take responsibility for the tower,” Herbst said. “It will add additional channels to our system.”
County Park Improvements
The walkway around the south lake in Cape Girardeau County Park will be completed this summer, finishing the 3,000-square-foot sidewalk and accompanying lighting along the edge of the lake. In addition, a restroom and shelter will be built along the lake near the current gazebo and parking lot.
Park Superintendent Bryan Sander said the county has also applied for grant funding for additional pavilions, playgrounds and restrooms in the county parks. If the county receives the grant funding from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, a new shelter and restroom facility will be built near the Cape Girardeau County Veterans Memorial in the north county park.
Koeper said local VFW Post 3838 has committed to a $50,000 donation to help fund the Veterans Memorial project. The VFW Post would use the new pavilion during the events they hold at the memorial.
In addition, a new playground would be built in the south county park and an additional new playground, restroom and shelter would be constructed in the north county park. Work on these projects would not start until 2023 and would be completed in 2024.
Roads and Bridges
Over half of the county roads have been paved, with more gravel roads scheduled to be paved this year and several paved roads scheduled to be overlaid. Koeper said the amount of roads overlaid will be dependent on asphalt prices.
Last year, 25 miles of paved county roads were overlaid. Koeper said they wish they could just focus on paving the remaining gravel roads, but it’s also important to make sure the existing paved roads are well maintained.
“It’s similar to having a house and fixing a roof leak,” Koeper said. “We’ll have bigger problems down the road if we don’t stay on top of them.”
Two bridges are scheduled to be replaced this year using federal funds – one on County Road 422 and another on County Road 436.
Potential future projects
The county currently has a request for architectural services to design a potential emergency management facility to store critical emergency equipment. “We are in an area where there’s a potential for disaster,” Koeper said. “If we do have a major event, we don’t want our equipment to blow away.”
The potential new building could also include emergency management office space, meeting areas to coordinate an emergency response and space for other regional agencies to store their own emergency equipment.
Once some county offices move to the historic courthouse, Koeper said renovations may be made at the county administration building to streamline visits to the various county offices.
“If you go into newer county facilities, you’ll see the assessor, recorder and the collector all on one floor,” Koeper said. “Probably 90 percent of the business coming into the building are for those three offices.”
Koeper said many visitors have to visit at least two of those three offices in one trip, which requires them to go up and down the building’s stairs. “This building is a little bit confusing,” he said. “It would be nice for us to be able to have everything together and you could do your business all in one place.”
In addition, Koeper said the storage space for election equipment needs more room. “We keep gathering more stuff and equipment and they need more room,” he said. “They would also like a bigger room for election night for people who come to watch the numbers roll in, so there’s just a lot of things that we’re thinking about.”
Herbst said the archive center is also looking into applying for grant-funded moving shelves. “There’s new systems out there that will probably double the floor space over there with some moving shelves.”
Tracy said they are also in the early discussions to see if they could consolidate its geographic information system (GIS) mapping system with other taxing districts.
“Instead of everyone having their own map that has their own data on it, it would be much more efficient to all use the same map and then each put their data into that system,” Tracy said. “You could have a full picture of what’s going on.”