2011-06-01 / Front Page

New jail in shopping center?

Commissioners tour old Farmer Jack’s building as possible site
BY ERIC LEVINE Editor


(Above) Sanilac County Commissioners are thinking about buying this strip of buildings in the Kmart shopping center in Sandusky. Right to left - Continental Rental Inc., the old Farmer Jack’s supermarket (also shown below), and the old Hallmark store. Not shown - two empty stores around the corner from Continental. Commissioners would move the county jail, sheriff department and central dispatch into the Farmer Jack’s building. 
Photos by Eric Levine (Above) Sanilac County Commissioners are thinking about buying this strip of buildings in the Kmart shopping center in Sandusky. Right to left - Continental Rental Inc., the old Farmer Jack’s supermarket (also shown below), and the old Hallmark store. Not shown - two empty stores around the corner from Continental. Commissioners would move the county jail, sheriff department and central dispatch into the Farmer Jack’s building. Photos by Eric Levine Remember the plans for expanding and renovating the jail?

Forget them. Maybe.

Sanilac County Commissioners are considering the purchase of a strip of buildings - mostly empty - in the Kmart shopping center on Sandusky’s west-side.

The main building in the complex, the 34,000 square foot former Farmer Jack’s supermarket - vacant for several years - would serve as the new county jail, sheriff department and central dispatch.

In addition, the real estate deal would include the empty Hallmark store, with 3,600 square feet, to the south of Farmer Jack; the 6.000 square foot Continental Rental store to the north of Farmer Jack’s; and two empty buildings around the corner from Continental that previously housed a cellular phone company (710 square feet) and a sandwich shop (1,300 square feet).

Commissioner Gary Russell, who has spoken to the New York firm that owns the shopping center, said the deal would encompass parking around the buildings, including 200 feet of the parking lot in front of Farmer Jack’s

The property is on the west side of the shopping center that also contains Kmart, a Michigan Works office and a vacant building that used to be a clothing store.

Commissioners toured the Farmer Jack’s and Hallmark buildings last Wednesday with RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects. The sheriff, undersheriff and jail administrator, and the county treasurer and clerk, a building permit official and the Sandusky city manager were also in attendance.


Sanilac County Commissioners toured the old Farmer Jack’s store in Sandusky last week, as they consider buying the empty building for a new county jail, sheriff department and central dispatch. Left to right - Commissioners Gary Russell and Jim Bowerman, Robert Piskoty of RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects, and Sheriff Garry Biniecki. Sanilac County Commissioners toured the old Farmer Jack’s store in Sandusky last week, as they consider buying the empty building for a new county jail, sheriff department and central dispatch. Left to right - Commissioners Gary Russell and Jim Bowerman, Robert Piskoty of RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects, and Sheriff Garry Biniecki. Jim Bowerman, chairman of the board of commissioners, said the idea of turning Farmer Jack’s into a jail has been mentioned over the years, but gained serious interest about a month and a half ago when he and Russell met representatives of RQAW at a conference in Lansing. The Indiana firm had a booth at the conference, and asked the commissioners how the Sanilac jail project was pro- gressing. When Bowerman and Russell said it was stalled because construction bids had come in too high, the reps explained that RQAW specialized in turning old buildings - schools, factories, large retail stores - into jails.

Russell said he contacted the shopping center owners, who were reluctant at first to sell the property if it would be used as a jail, but have since changed their mind. Russell said he gave them a proposed purchase price, which he would not disclose. The owners invited the commissioners to tour the property.

According to Bowerman, the property is on the market for $3.5 million, which is too much.

“If that’s the case, we’re not interested at all,” he said.

Although the county has been approved for a $5 million federal loan through Rural Development, the loan is designated for the expansion and improvements of the existing jail to address health and safety issues.

“They may not let us use the money to buy a building,” said Bowerman. “We’re looking at other funding sources.”

The next step is for RQAW to review the Farmer Jack’s blueprints, “draw up the best way” to utilize the floor space and come up a cost estimate, said Bowerman.

One concern, that the ceiling might not be high enough for stacking the pre-built jail cells that would be brought in, was answered during the tour when the engineers determined there was sufficient height.

While Farmer Jack’s would serve as the new jail and sheriff department, space in the other buildings could be used for other county departments, for example those currently housed in the health department building which the county is trying to sell. If the building sold, the county would need to find office space for the health department, veterans affairs and medical control authority.

Russell said commissioners are trying to think “outside the box” with a purchase that could serve the county now and in the future.

Bowerman said the existing jail and sheriff department building could be used for storage and possibly offices, But he added, “that’s all speculation. We’re a long ways from that...Basically this is the start.”

The recent interest in the Farmer Jack’s property did not become public until last week, when commissioners’ meeting at the property was posted the day before the tour.

Bowerman said their interest in the property was kept quiet because “it might fall apart.”

Sheriff Garry Biniecki didn’t have much to say about after the tour.

“I’m always willing to look for alternatives,” he said. But, “I really think this is a commissioners’ project...I don’t own the checkbook.”

The mayor of Sandusky mayor learned about the county’s plans Thursday, when contacted by the News.

“You caught me way off guard,” said Mayor Tom Lukshaitis, adding, “the city will lose even more tax revenue. That’s the problem with being a county seat. We have a lot of entities that don’t pay property taxes but want the services.”

Return to top

Copyright © 2009-2018 Sanilac County News, All Rights Reserved

Special Sections

Click here for digital edition
2011-06-01 digital edition