Emergency Over — Marathon County Jail Reconstruction Project Complete

Written by Lance Leonhard

After 6 months of repair and reconstruction work, day-to-day operations at the Marathon County Jail and Courthouse is back to normal.

In July of 2019, engineers expressed concerns regarding the structural integrity of the jail, prompting former County Administrator Brad Karger and Sheriff Scott Parks to take immediate action to remove inmates from certain areas of the facility and close several onsite parking areas. Karger requested that the County Board declare an emergency to allow jail repairs to proceed without having to follow standard public bidding rules. The County Board agreed, declaring the jail repairs an emergency on August 8, 2019. With that, our Facilities & Capital Management team got to work.

What exactly were the issues with the jail?

Essentially, the project sought to correct 2 specific issues:

  1. The connection points between the structural columns and the concrete floors were inadequate. With enough additional stress, this can lead to what is known as “punching shear,” where a column simply punches through the slab and the slab collapses.
  2. Second, the concrete slabs, which serve as both the floors and ceilings of the various levels of the jail, were deflecting and the weight load was not properly being transferred to the floors below. In other words: The floors were sagging more than anticipated. That meant that the interior walls, which were not designed to carry the weight of the floor above, were under pressure and the weight load wasn’t being properly distributed to the floors below.

So, what did we do to fix it?

In short, a lot.

We reinforced over 40 columns, using steel column collars and installing approximately 1,800 two-foot-long steel bolts. Installing these bolts was no small task. The process began by using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to locate the steel reinforcing bars (rebar) within the floor, diagraming the layout of the rebar, and then having an engineer calculate the proper layout of the bolts — all before the specialized drill teams ever started drilling a single hole.

Image of the rebar locations based on the GPR survey.


Example of the rebar surveys used by the engineer and construction team.


The end result, showing an expanded steel collar at the top of a column capital and the surrounding reinforcing steel bolts.

To correct the improper distribution of the weight load, we painstakingly cut the top portions of interior concrete block walls to take pressure off of non-load-bearing structures, distributing the weight back to the now reinforced concrete columns. We also added a significant amount of structural steel in the lower level parking area to further properly distribute the load and reduce the potential for further deflection in the lower level slab.

Construction crew installing a supplemental steel beam in the lower level of the jail structure.

In addition to the immense challenge associated with managing the construction activities, our Sheriff’s Office staff also had to oversee the complex logistics of finding places to house the 90 inmates that had to be removed from the jail.

Over the course of 7 months, this meant housing inmates in Langlade, Lincoln, Taylor, and even Columbia Counties and managing the accompanying increase in inmate transports. Our corrections staff also revised our electronic monitoring practices to ensure we were supervising inmates in the community to the extent community safety permits, which is better for inmates and reduces costs.

The bottom line . . .

At the end of the day, the project while costly, came in almost 20% under budget. The engineering and construction work cost approximately $2.3 million, while the additional inmate housing and transport costs were approximately $500,000.

What does it mean now that the jail emergency is over?

The emergency declaration simply allowed us to avoid our standard public bid procurement rules. With the emergency over, those rules are back in effect.

* * *

I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to commend the excellent work by our Facilities & Capital Management and Corrections staff on this immense project. It was truly a coordinated effort, and I could not be more impressed with our team.

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy AdministratorLance Leonhard

Marathon County Deputy Administrator / Interim Administrator

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard

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