New facility nearly ready
LUVERNE -- In little more than a month, the Rock County Sheriff's Department will move from its century-old building in the center of town to a highly-efficient, state-of-the-art facility along North Blue Mound Avenue. On Friday, workers were busy painting and installing cabinetry in the $1.8 million Rock County Law Enforcement Center (LEC). Both the budget and the county's plans to be moved into the new facility by early- to mid-January are on schedule.
Working in cramped quarters for several years already, Sheriff Mike Winkels said the department is eager to settle into the new LEC. In addition to an office for the sheriff -- Evan Verbrugge will take the helm Jan. 1 -- there are individual offices for two deputies, and a large common room for the remainder of the officers in the department of 11. A major advantage to the move is that all of the officers will have desk space on one level instead of three, as is currently the situation.
Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre said the new facility will increase efficiencies and the flow of information.
"It will provide for a better workspace, storage and tracking of evidence," Oldre said. "The absolute improvement is going to be the separate interrogation-interview rooms."
Two rooms in the new facility are dedicated for interrogation and interviews. Winkels said one will be a hard room, filled only with a table and a couple of chairs, to be used to question criminals; while the second room will be a soft room, used primarily for victims of assault, abuse or other circumstances.
Other features in the new LEC include temperature-controlled storage rooms, evidence lockers for each deputy, a private room for the investigator, expanded space and a kitchenette for the dispatchers, a small conference room and an emergency operations center that is built to withstand a natural or man-made disaster.
"It really is like a bunker in (the emergency operations center)," said Oldre. The ceiling of the room is constructed of concrete, and the room features numerous outlets for communication systems in the event of a disaster.
A feature both Winkels and Oldre like are the addition of a two-vehicle sally port that offers security in transporting criminals to the facility and providing a place to de-ice patrol cars during the winter.
The new LEC also includes office space for Rock-Nobles Community Corrections, allowing the agency to move from the family services building, where cramped quarters created issues not only for corrections, but public health. Corrections' moving to the LEC creates a win-win situation for both departments.
Jon Ramlo, director of Rock-Nobles Community Corrections, said the new office space provides for three workers with a reception area and two offices -- an improvement over their current space that features just two offices. Now, on the days when Ramlo or his group supervisor Jennifer Powers work a day in Luverne, one of the office workers has to relinquish her desk space.
"The size of the offices is quite a bit larger and we're looking forward to having the space," Ramlo said, adding that once the offices are open, he plans to spend more time in Luverne, as he will be able to access his computer files from both his office in Worthington and Luverne.
Ramlo also said moving into offices within the LEC will improve the relationship between corrections and public safety.
"The communication and collaboration will flow much more smoothly," he said. "I do think it will definitely help with building the relationships with law enforcement."
Though community corrections also works closely with family services, Ramlo said the two buildings are in close enough proximity that any drawbacks will be minimal.
As for the new location of the LEC, Winkels doesn't see any drawbacks, except for the distance deputies will now have to travel to get prisoners to and from court, but even that is just a matter of blocks. With the new LEC constructed at the edge of a residential neighborhood, he also said officers will be able to access major thru-streets in the community quickly and easily.
The county has not yet decided what to do with the existing law enforcement center. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Winkels said the county is limited as to what can be done with the building -- a primary reason cited in the decision to build a new sheriff's department.
"It was designed for a house and a jail," said Winkels of the building, which was constructed in 1899 and completed in 1900. "The walls restrict what you can do here -- the interior and exterior both. They don't know what one wall supports."
Close to half of the space in the four-level building was considered unusable space for the sheriff's department, said Winkels.
"Being relocated into this new building is going to be a lot easier for everyone," said Winkels. "It's going to be a more comfortable work area and it will be enjoyable to work in."
A public open house will be scheduled once work is nearly complete on the new facility, with move-in date to follow shortly thereafter.