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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Oconto County Dedicates Law Enforcement Center

Ribbon cutting and dedication ceremonies on Thursday, June 22 for the new $31.8 million Oconto County Law Enforcement Center attracted nearly 200 guests, including County Board supervisors, contractors and designers of the building, state and local dignitaries and county employees and their families. According to Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann, the new jail is on track to begin accepting inmates in mid-July. Sheriff Mike Jansen has already moved into his new office, as have many of the law enforcement personnel.

Then on Saturday, June 24, about 550 persons took advantage of the general public's only chance to see the inside of the new Oconto County Jail without getting arrested. The new Law Enforcement Center is behind the courthouse facing Arbutus Avenue in Oconto. The public open house was held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with county employees as tour guides.

The official flag raising, dedication and ribbon cutting ceremonies started at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 22, following the County Board's regular monthly meeting earlier that morning.

Due to threatening rain, most of the dedication program starting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday was held inside the sallyport of the new facility, which faces Arbutus Avenue and is connected to the back of the original courthouse and annex.

The rains held off long enough on Thursday for the official flag raising ceremony to be held outdoors, with County Veterans Service Officer Ron Christensen playing "Colors" and county employee Carla Ruechel singing the National Anthem. Shortly after the crowd moved back inside the rains came down, but did not dampen the enthusiasm of speakers, some of whom had waited months, even years, for this day. Plans for the new jail and law enforcement center have been in the works since at least 2013.

Father Joel Sember, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, which borders the courthouse complex, offered the invocation. He said it had been fun to watch the new building come together. He expressed hope that their time in jail "will bring a new sunrise" into the lives of people sent there, and that their time in jail will have a positive impact on the rest of their lives.

No one was happier with the new facility than Oconto County Board Chair Lee Rymer, who declared the two achievements he is most proud of during his 31 years on the board are that first, that from 2012 until the middle of 2014 Oconto County was completely debt free, one of the few counties in the state ever to achieve that goal. Second was going back into debt to construct "this new law enforcement center that has been built right where it belongs."

He said in 2013 County board passed a resolution to construct the new LEC. There had been a site purchased on County S at the Oconto City limits, but County Board finally chose to rescind that location and build adjacent to the courthouse. The project included purchasing 14 properties to create the 4.7 acre site.

Among speakers at the dedication were representatives of the Samuels Group, which supervised construction; Potter Lawson, architects for the building, Mark O'Connell of WCA, Sen. Dave Hansen, Rep. Jeff Mursau, Sheriff Mike Jansen, Hamann, Jail Administrator Carol Kopp, Circuit Court Judges Michael Judge and Jay Conley, Public Property Chair Bill Grady, and Law Enforcement Chair Gerald Beekman. Also present and noted by Rymer were Erhart Huetl and his wife, from Forest County, Bond Counsel Jeff Belonga, who said the county had a Double A plus bond rating, which resulted in low interest rates of 2.2 percent on $10 million of bonds and 2.19 percent on $15 million.

Hamann thanked the City of Oconto for cooperating in various things, including helping them get the variances needed for conduit, and County Finance Director Terri Boos for insuring that the county is in good shape financially.

A report to the board from County Administrator Kevin Hamann indicates the facility is on track to begin accepting inmates in mid-July. Sheriff's deputies and the 911 dispatch center moved in on June 1, and with a few odds and ends left to be finished, Hamann predicted total project completion should occur around Nov. 10.

A state Department of Corrections inspection is scheduled for July 10, and jail staff and equipment will begin moving in later that week. Inmates from the old jail should be in their new quarters by July 18, and county inmates currently being housed in other facilities will be transferred in August.

O'Connell declared that public structures like this ""speak to the strength of our democracy, and this building speaks to the strength of Oconto County." He added, "It takes more than bricks and mortar to build a structure like this". It takes leadership, caring, and a belief in our society."

John Dirkse of Wisconsin County Mutual/Aegis, insurers for the project, "seeing a fine facility like this one, I can't help but be very proud of being a very small part of the success of this project." The county was self insured through Aegis for the project, and the construction has been without a single lost time accident.

The ceremonies and speeches were followed by tours of the facilities and a lunch served in the Emergency Operations Center.


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