Edgar County Board, Sheriff’s Department break ground on safety center project


Patience is a virtue – a virtue the Edgar County Board, the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department and construction consultants on the multi-year, multi-million dollar Edgar County Public Safety Center (ECPSC) project are all painfully aware of. This week, however, the patience of those close to the project was rewarded.

As of Tuesday, June 11, work is officially underway at the future site of the ECPSC: an all-in-one jail, dispatch center and sheriff’s office. A groundbreaking ceremony at the plot, located on 950th (Springfield) Road, marked the first physical progress toward the new facility and a significant milestone in the project’s, and the county’s, history.

“Big buildings don't just happen overnight. It takes the energy of a lot of elected officials (and) the county board members, so we thank you for all your participation,” said Michael Fries, senior architect at Klingner and Associates, adding, “This is a great day for Edgar County to move this thing forward.”

The small crowd gathered for the occasion included local law enforcement, contractors, consultants and government officials, including Illinois State Senator Chapin Rose.

County Board chairman Jeff Voigt opened the event by providing a brief history of the project and its inception. Voigt noted that, while talks of a new jail have floated around for decades, the project was thrust in front of the board in 2018 after the county’s current jail, first constructed in 1892 with two later additions, was temporarily decommissioned due to insurance issues. Those issues, namely facility and jail policy matters, led to compliance issues with the Department of Corrections.

The facility remained closed from December of that year until July 2019.

Shortly after the jail’s closure, the board applied for and received a grant from the USDA to conduct a study on the jail and the surrounding county, determining the area’s public safety needs.

“What that study told us was that we needed to look at the possibility of a new jail,” Voigt explained.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Edgar County jail saw a surge in inmates according to Voigt. As many as 50 inmates packed were into the old facility at one time if the Department of Corrections was unable to make a pickup.

Since that time, however, the elimination of cash bail in Illinois through the implementation of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act has led to a decrease in the average number of prisoners housed in the jail. Board member Karl Farnham has received questions from the public regarding the new legislation and the new facility’s size.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Why’d you build such a big jail? …with no cash bail, you don't have anybody.’ Well, prior to that we we did have a lot,” Farnham explained. “They did projections for the future, and they felt like we needed the extra capacity.”

Board members believe legislation could reverse or alter the removal of cash bail in the future, or otherwise inflate the number of inmates. The board and the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department are also exploring the possibility of securing contracts to house state and federal prisoners in its newer, larger facility.

Following the study, a public referendum led to the implementation of a one percent public safety tax – a critical piece in the funding of the new facility.

“I think one of the most important segment(s) of people we need to thank are the citizens and taxpayers and voters of Edgar County for passing the safety tax referendum,” Voigt said. “If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have been able to make the improvements that Jeff (Wood) has overseen in the department, and (improve) the coverage of Edgar County, and we wouldn't be able to do the jail.”

Soon after the tax’s implementation, design work on the new jail began. The layout of the facility was finalized in 2023, but minor reworks are still underway as the board and the Sheriff’s Department meet with contractors to attempt to bring the project’s cost back in line with earlier estimates, which hovered around $18 million. After bids from subcontractors were submitted, the total cost ballooned to $18.8 million before consultants from Klingner and Associates and CORE Construction whittled the building’s price tag to less than $18.4 million.

Voigt thanked Sheriff Jeff Wood, Chief Deputy Matt Smith and jail administrator Ryan Murphy for their roles in designing the jail.

“It's been quite a process,” Voigt said. “It's been very enlightening, at times it's been frustrating, but we're happy to be here today to look at the dedication (of those involved).”

Wood recalled the first inspection of the old jail during his tenure “didn’t go well.” He is deeply appreciative of the support from those involved with the project.

“I just want to thank the citizens and the county board. The guys (who) have worked with me, Matt (Smith) and Ryan (Murphy), we've worked hours designing it… the phone calls, the meetings, the teleconferences – I’m glad it’s all paid off, so thank you,” said Wood.

Currently, the timeline for the project is 16 months, meaning a fully functional facility could be in place by October 2025, barring any delays.

Once the building is complete, those close to the project hope it remains in operation for decades to come.

“It is designed for efficiency, and it’s designed to last at least 50 years,” said Voigt.

Fries is confident in the design’s longevity.

“This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Edgar County to invest in the future with a good facility that's going to last them a long time,” Fries concluded.

To learn more about the project and for future updates, visit prairiepress.net.