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St. Croix Corrections project in state's capital budget

Jo Skalski, superintendent of the St. Croix Correctional Center, stands near an exit that is often stuck during winter.

The long wait may be over for the St. Croix Correctional Center in New Richmond.

When Gov. Scott Walker released his list of proposed capital projects for 2011-13 two weeks ago, one item caught the eye of Jo Skalski, superintendent of the local Correctional Center.

After years of requesting funding, the center was one of the funding priorities in the proposal. About $3.2 million was suggested so the facility could replace aging housing and educational space.

Skalski said funding for the facility has been lower on the Department of Corrections priority list since she took the job as superintendent in 1997.

"We've come close before, but we've never made the final list. This is excellent," she said. "It's well overdue. It's needed."

If the funding is approved by the legislature, a two-story addition to the facility at the intersection of County Road K and KK will be constructed. A total of 16,200 square feet will provide housing space for 36 inmates, as well as educational classrooms for inmates and office space. The plans also provide for a secure holding cell to lock up unruly inmates and a basement for storage and severe weather shelter.

The expansion would replace two temporary modular units, erected in 1978 and 1985, that now provide some housing and educational spaces for inmates. When they first were installed, the units were expected to last 15 to 20 years.

In 1994, because of a growing inmate population, the St. Croix Correctional Center's main building was constructed. It was designed so that an additional wing could easily be added to the east.

In the subsequent years, as officials waited for the funding to build an addition, the condition of the facility's temporary structures continued to deteriorate.

The subflooring and bathroom walls have rotted through in spots. Baseboard heaters are beyond repair and need to be replaced. Fire exits become inoperable in the winter due to frost shifting the building. The water lines freeze at least once every winter.

Skalski said health and safety concerns, as well as structural deficiencies, help make the project worthy of funding.

"We keep band-aiding it," Skalski said. "But they (the modular units) weren't meant to be used this long. They don't look that bad, but if you take a hard look you can see it's dangerous."

If construction moves forward, project bids will likely go out in early 2012. Construction would start in the spring of 2013 and the addition would be completed in the summer of 2014.

Skalski said the planned addition to their building does not mean the program will be growing in the future.

"We're not looking to expand any numbers," she said.

The St. Croix Correctional Center houses the Challenge Incarceration Program, which offers incarcerated non-violent offenders the opportunity to volunteer for the six-month, boot camp experience designed to teach inmates discipline and instruct them in how to make good life choices. Alcohol and drug counseling is also provided so that inmates have a better chance to stay sober after their release.

"We help them take responsibility for their actions," Skalski said.

The facility currently has the capacity to house 132 inmates at a time (120 males and 12 females), but Skalski said they typically have 100 inmates on site.

The center is presently staffed by 54 Department of Corrections employees, including 31 security sergeants, four teachers and two nurses.