Efficiency in Action: Justice Center Development Ahead of Schedule and Under Budget

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March/April 2024

Zionsville Monthly had the privilege of touring, along with Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe and former Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen, the newly enclosed areas where the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, Community Corrections, Probation, Coroner’s Office, and other facilities such as training rooms and a new infirmary will be housed upon completion.

Boone County Justice Center

This is the first installment of a multi-part series where we will explore the newly constructed areas of the justice center and provide reports as we tour each section.

Building for Today and Beyond Tomorrow

Discussions surrounding a proposed justice center for Boone County commenced in 2015, involving former county commissioners, county councilmembers, and the former Boone County Sheriff, Mike Nielsen. Nielsen, currently serving as the Boone County Executive Project Manager, is overseeing the construction of the justice center, collaborating with various teams and departments throughout the process. He reports directly to the current county commissioners: Donnie Lawson, Jeff Wolfe, and Tim Beyer of Zionsville.

Justice Center Development Update

Initially, projections in 2015 outlined the county’s population growth, justifying the need for expansions to the existing jail in Lebanon, Indiana. However, the $3.7 billion Eli Lilly development and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s LEAP District in Boone County, both currently underway, were unforeseen. These projects are anticipated to significantly impact the county’s growth trajectory.

The Boone County Justice Center aims to streamline operations, offer convenience, and yield cost savings by consolidating multiple legal, judicial, medical, and mental health services under one roof. Rather than merely “warehousing” individuals, the center is geared towards rehabilitation, rethinking criminal justice for the community.

In addressing the challenges associated with increased caseloads, providing scalable infrastructure, ensuring resource efficiency, enhancing community accessibility, and bolstering confidence in the legal system, the Boone County Justice Center is poised to benefit a growing county immensely.

Maximize Efficiency and Professionalism for a Growing County

The newly constructed buildings will serve as the Sheriff’s office and administration offices, the BCSO Emergency command center, the Community Corrections and Probation facility, Coroner’s office, also includes a new kitchen for the entire complex and an infirmary, along with residential housing for the inmates that are working their way back to becoming gainfully employed, productive and healthy members of the community.

Currently, both the administration building and the designated areas for community corrections and probation are completely enclosed. Construction is underway for the mental health block, as well as the area designated for the coroner and pre-booking.

Most of the ceilings in the facility are approximately 10 feet high, except for the entrance area, which boasts ceilings over 20 feet. There have been some engineering changes, providing the opportunity to potentially expand parking within the next year and a half.

Justice Center Development Update

Metal detectors will be stationed at the main entry, manned by staff. There is a dedicated room off of the main entrance designated for full-body scans after passing through the metal detectors.

The exterior of the building is made of masonry for security purposes, and the interior walls are steel stud construction. For ease of maintenance, the jail cells will be modular in nature.

The multi-purpose rooms located near the sheriff’s administrative are designed to accommodate officer interviews without requiring access to the administration area. Command and support staff will be located down the hallways, fostering efficient communication and workflow.

“The fact about this particular area is that we had this department operating out of an area that was built for about half the number of people that were there,” Wolfe stated. “We had converted closets and storage rooms into office spaces. This is purpose-built for a department of our size plus what we are anticipating for the future.”

Wolfe shared that the projected growth is approximately 140,000 people in Boone County in the next 10 years.

“If you look at the reality of the LEAP district, that number could be significantly higher,” Wolfe said. “This is what we’re planning for and anticipating that we’ll have a rise in the crime rate for the county purely from a population change standpoint.”

Moving into the conference and training center areas where future press conferences will be held by BCSO and related department heads, Wolfe shared, “We’re installing state-of-the-art technology for the sheriff to conduct press conferences. There will be a designated entrance and exit for the media, along with a separate entrance for the sheriff, ensuring seamless access for both parties.”

 Moving to the lower level of the newly constructed expansion area, this is dedicated to investigations. There is a garage where vehicles can be brought in for processing. Over the past decade, BCSO expanded its crime scene investigation program, but lacked proper facilities for evidence processing. This space will feature lockers for deputies to securely store evidence, ensuring its integrity.

Also housed in this area is a space dedicated to the officers’ health and well-being.

Nielsen added, “One of the big focuses on this expansion is on mental and physical health. This workout area will house different workout machines and free-lift weights and those types of things to help with that focus on the well-being of the officers. This area will also be outfitted with locker rooms for convenience.”

The Infirmary site features a secured hallway that offers holding areas for inmates in need of medical assistance or support.

Justice Center Development Update

Wolfe added, “Previously, the infirmary was no larger than one of these [new] holding areas in totality. There will be 5 hospital beds plus a bariatric bed and additional office space for nurses and doctors. It will be climate controlled so that the area can be isolated for situations like COVID.”

Under Budget and On Schedule

“We are over 50% completed and are at or slightly below budget at this time,” Wolfe shared. “This is a BOT (build-operate-transfer) project so the total budgeted number of $59,151,323.00 will not change. Where there can be minor changes to the FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment) we are paying for with cash and we are well within budget.”

Nielsen added, “We have a great team put together between the design, construction and development teams and the on-site teams. We’ve all gelled well and in addition to favorable weather conditions, I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re on budget and ahead of schedule.”

From the outset of planning, years ago when Nielsen served as the county’s sheriff, a design centered on rehabilitation rather than incarceration has been a primary focus for the Commissioners and the Sheriff.

“One of the things that’s really impressive about this whole project design is that we literally sent K2M our specs and they built the project to those specs,” Wolfe explained. “We didn’t adopt their ideas … they have built exactly what we asked them to.”

Stay tuned for upcoming reports on the expansion areas of the justice center. For more background on the Justice Center project, visit the Boone County Commissioners’ website at livinginboonecounty.com.