New Law Enforcement Center is dedicated

Public gets a look inside facility
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Times Herald Photo by Warren Bluhm

Dispatcher Malorie Schmidt helps a caller to the Oconto County 911 Dispatch Center, which moved into its new home at the Law Enforcement Center at the beginning of June.

An intermittent rain drove all of the festivities indoors, except the flag-raising, but a spirit of celebration was in the air anyway during the dedication of the new Oconto County Law Enforcement Center.

The center at 220 Arbutus Ave., behind the county courthouse, is the new home to the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department, dispatch center and county jail.

Sheriff Mike Jansen called it one of the best days in his 39 years with the department, the last 15 as sheriff.

“This took a lot of talking, a lot of planning, a lot of meetings, and some more meetings, a few headaches, and a number of sleepless nights,” Jansen told about 200 people gathered in the sally port of the new jail. “But as you can see, it has all come together to what you have behind me, a project we all can – and I hope all citizens of Oconto County can – be proud of for a long time, a whole long time. This is a very good day.”

“I’m very confident in saying that we have created and laid out a beautiful jail plan not only for now but for the future,” said Carol Kopp, the jail administrator, who said it was a “humbling experience” to be a part of the team that designed and built the state-of-the-art, 148-bed facility.

“I am so incredibly proud beyond words of the correctional staff that I oversee and who will work tirelessly in this building,” she said.

County Board Chairman Lee Rymer said one of the biggest accomplishments along the way was the decision to build the new facility not at a proposed site along County Road S but instead to “put the Law Enforcement Center where it belongs” in the courthouse complex, a process that included closing part of Adams Street and acquiring 14 properties in the neighborhood.

County Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann watched it all unfold from his office window.

“The project has been a challenge; however, with everyone involved it’s been a success,” Hamann said.

Kurt Berner, construction manager for Samuels Group, said his company worked to get an understanding of the board and the community.

“The message that was sent to us loud and clear was you want to build a Law Enforcement Center that fit within this neighborhood, that fit within this community, and you wanted to make sure that it was constructed in a safe manner,” Berner said.

As of Thursday the project had proceeded for 559 days without a lost-time accident, project manager Tim Harman said.

Several speakers waxed poetic, including Mark O’Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.

“Our public buildings, our public structures, speak to the strength of our democracy. They are visible symbols of the fabric of our communities and how strong they are or can be,” O’Connell said. “It takes more than brick and steel to construct these public structures. It takes leadership, it takes caring, it takes a belief in our county, a belief in our society. You are so, so fortunate in Oconto County to have the leadership you have.”

O’Connell told the assembled group that “Oconto County is looked at as a leader, as setting the example of how to do things right, and this building is a living example of that.”

Judge Michael T. Judge said the old jail did not have the room to provide education and proper treatment to help the people incarcerated there.

“The Oconto County Law Enforcement Center isn’t just about adding additional housing for its inmates, but rather it’s about a county that cares about an investment in programming to make sure that our inmates are given ample opportunities for education, and treatment, so that they may return to our community as a productive member of our community,” Judge said.

Judge Jay Conley joked that he’s grateful “we now have the capacity to incarcerate any Bears, Vikings or Lions fans found in this county,” but then he turned serious.

“When in other places in our beloved country, law enforcement is under attack, we should be so proud in Oconto County that our county board had the guts and courage to make a commitment to law enforcement, because law enforcement is public safety,” Conley said. “It is our sworn duty as circuit judges to cherish, uphold, protect people’s rights, but without safety, without protection, without law enforcement, those rights mean nothing. Well done, Oconto County, well done, county board, you bet this took courage and guts.”

After an open house Saturday that drew thousands of visitors to tour the new facilities, the county expects to start moving inmates into their new temporary home after the Independence Day holiday. The sheriff’s department and dispatch center moved in the first week of June.