Warden John Varga, left, Sheriff John Simonton and Senator Tim Bivins throw dirt during the ground-breaking ceremony for the Lee County Law Enforcement Center on Aug. 1. (Reporter photo by Monetta Young)
DIXON — Lee County Sheriff John Simonton addressed the dozens of onlookers as the official ground-breaking ceremony for the new Lee County Law Enforcement Center was held on Aug. 1.
Simonton thanked the taxpaying citizens of Lee County for their great support through two referendums to make this happen.
“I knew we had to do it right,” said Simonton. “I am a career law enforcement man, but as an elected official, I had to build the trust in the community. I focused on transparency.”
Senator Tim Bivins, who served as Lee County Sheriff from 1986 – 2006 talked briefly about the long-range goals that he had identified in about 1988. “I told them then that we were going to need a new jail in about 20 years,” said Bivins. “It took three sheriffs and 30 years to get it done.”
Congressman Adam Kinzinger was on hand for the ceremony as well.
“Thanks for the leadership of this team and to Lee County,” he said. “This county has demonstrated a commitment to law enforcement, as shown in the recent events surrounding the school shooting.”
Brent Johnson, President/CEO of Ringland-Johnson Construction spoke of the importance of a collaborative effort and teamwork. Which seemed to be the theme of the day.
Lee County Board Chairman, Jim Wentling said “This is an exciting day for Lee County. The planning committee and the ad hoc committee have worked tirelessly with Ringland Johnson to put together a state of the art facility.”
The 94 bed unit is about 30,000 square feet, with a vehicle storage garage, 26 employee parking stalls and a sally port for unloading prisoners safely. The outer walls will be concrete and there will be masonry and rebar on the interior walls.
“This will be one of the most secure facilities in all of Illinois,” said Johnson. The final projected costs will be just under $17 million.
Simonton talked about the deteriorating condition of the existing Lee County jail.
“There were 20 leaks in my first year on the job. The jail has also been failing its annual state inspection and there were too many issues to try to improve the existing building,” said Simonton. “When I took office, I encouraged my deputies and employees to be open about areas where they thought there should be a change. I told them to have two possible solutions for every problem. I couldn’t do that with the jail. There was only one solution. We needed a new jail.”
An emotional Simonton thanked his righthand men, Jack Skrogstad, Todd Atwell and Dave Glessner. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“There is no limit to the great work we can do, if nobody cares who gets the credit,” said Simonton. “This is teamwork.”