- change ups
County law enforcement properties are worth plenty
Value of buildings tops $100 million.
The value of the properties managed by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department total nearly $110 million, with the most significant sites located on the county’s Fuller Avenue Campus.
The single most valuable structure, at $85.5 million, is the correctional facility, which is located on the 79-acre campus. The jail was built in 1956 and has undergone several renovations from 1978 through last year. The facility takes in about 26,000 inmates each year, has a capacity for 1,285 beds and is a workplace for 256 employees.
“The heating and cooling control system is probably the most efficient available for that type of system,” said Al Jano, who manages the county’s facilities. The newly expanded area features geothermal heating and cooling. At the same time, the older sections of the facility are being retrofitted with new HVAC controls to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
“The landscaping is just about completed,” said Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma. “The new site has a completely different philosophy of how to house inmates than 40 years ago. It’s safer. The units are highly dependent on technology.”
Those changes emerged during the second phase of the renovation and expansion of the facility, which was completed last December and was designed for direct supervision of the inmates. Each unit houses 64 inmates and each has a deputy station that has direct contact with the inmates.
The facility also has new scanning equipment that has detected more contraband being snuck into the building. “Almost every week someone is trying to smuggle drugs into the building,” said Stelma. He added that visits also are now being done virtually via the Internet. “The technology is huge.”
“It’s like a small city over there,” said Jano. “It has a lot of state-of-the-art equipment and it’s run by some very professional people.”
Also located on the Fuller campus, which sits on the near northeast side of Grand Rapids between the I-196 overpass and Bradford Street, is the department’s $13.2 million administration building. The structure was built in the mid-1950s and has been renovated several times, most recently in 2002.
The last expansion added a state-of-the-art training facility with an indoor shooting range used by most of the area’s departments and another 73,000 square feet of office space. Last year, the building’s HVAC was upgraded.
More than 200 work there. It’s where the county’s Emergency Management Services department, which played a large role in the recent Grand River flooding, is located. Central Dispatch, the cold case team, the narcotics enforcement division, the records department and other units also are there.
The Community Re-entry Center is also on the campus. The building was originally a psychiatric hospital that opened in the late 1960s; the Sheriff’s Department took it over in 1999. It operates as a site where former inmates can be helped in transitioning back into the community.
The building houses 248 residents and is a co-ed facility. It offers job training and a work-release program and is valued at $8.3 million.
“I think this is one of the better moves the board did in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They help people find jobs. We’re really proud of it,” said Stelma.
“It’s an older facility and there will be upgrades made to it. There’s nothing pressing, currently,” said Jano.
The Sheriff’s Department operates two off-campus facilities that serve as substations. One is on 17 Mile Road in Kent City. It’s used by the deputies and detectives assigned to the northern half of the county. The county bought the 3,458-square-foot, single-story building from Kent City schools for $1 in the mid-1980s.
“Two days a week, we have clerks there and citizens can come in and get copies of complaints and records. It saves them from driving to Ball Avenue,” said Stelma.
The county also leases space in the lower level of the Gaines Township Hall for its south substation. “It’s a great asset for saving man hours,” said the sheriff.
The Sheriff’s Honor Camp in Gowen covers 80 acres and is valued at $1.9 million. It primarily was used as a work camp for offenders from 17 to 23 years old, but it was closed a few years ago because of budget cuts.
“It’s an expensive way of housing inmates,” said Stelma. He added that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is considering creating a training center there.
Kroes Street in Plainfield Township is where the Sheriff’s Department has its mounted unit, which has up to eight horses. The county’s Parks Department transferred the 30-acre site to the Sheriff’s Department two years ago. Although the county hasn’t set a dollar value for the land, it might be available.
“It’s a very valuable piece of property,” said Stelma. “It’s a nice chunk of land for a developer, but it’s not large enough for a park at 30 acres.”