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Newscast 10.4.2023: Woodbury County Supervisors detail reasons new $69 million county jail opening is delayed to 2024

Woodbury County Courthouse, Sioux City, Iowa
Woodbury County Courthouse, Sioux City, Iowa

Many Woodbury County people may not be familiar with the term damper, but that piece of fire protection equipment is what they need to know to understand why the opening of a new county jail facility is delayed by seven months to April 2024.

Members of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors for the past month have voiced disappointment that the $69 million building didn’t open according to plans in September.

During the weekly Tuesday supervisors meeting, two of them described finally getting a tour of the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center facility last week. They repeatedly cited fire dampers as the prime items left to finish up.

County Supervisor Mark Nelson said for unknown reasons 37 fire dampers were not included in architectural plans, and that oversight came to light a few weeks ago. When a fire breaks out, the dampers pivot to close and protect key infrastructure.

Nelson said the oversight was first noticed by an inspector for Hausmann Construction, who contacted the Iowa State Fire Marshal Office, who confirmed the dampers were missing.

County Supervisor Matthew Ung said “who is to blame and at fault is not an easy answer.”

Supervisor Ung said the dampers work will make for a “colossal project,” with each of the 37 needing a lot of unique custom work. He added that he was disappointed by the small number of subcontractors he saw working on the September 27 day tour that he and Nelson took.

Nelson noted that some of the places that the dampers will go are in previously set concrete, so it takes intensive labor to address them. He said that just setting up the scaffolding to work on one damper took 10 hours, before any of the actual work could be carried out.

The facility has 448 jail cells, courtrooms and offices.

Moving to address positive parts of the facility, Nelson said the county attorney offices are completed, and the final painting of the county sheriff offices is underway.

Nelson said people will enjoy working there, that “it is going to be a state of the art facility.”

The county supervisors handle the task of directing county funding to pay for the jail, which will replace the downtown Sioux City jail that dates to 1987.

Woodbury County voters in March 2020 passed a bond issue initiative to build a jail with an estimated pricetag of $54 million. But cost overruns associated with supply chain difficulties and national inflation soon thereafter boosted the cost to $69 million.

The delay will have a financial impact. The county has budgeted receiving revenues of $1.2 million from the federal government for housing some federal inmates, over the period from fall 2023 through June 2024.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this story contained an incorrect usage of another word for damper, or dampener, as used by many county officials in the meeting.