Prairie Hills Jail Annex

Woodbury County's Prairie Hills jail annex in rural Sioux City is shown in a  2014 photo. Officials are planning to build a new training center across the road from it. 

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County Supervisor Keith Radig proposed a novel idea Tuesday, contending the county could sell off a former jail annex and some of the expansive surrounding grounds just east of Sioux City, for development as housing.

The county no longer uses the Prairie Hills building for jail diversionary programs, and it is being used for some sheriff's office training. Therefore, Radig, a former Sioux City councilman who is in his first year as a supervisor, envisions a better use of the property as homes for people who like rural living.

The Prairie Hills tract includes not just the building, but also 160 acres, some of which Radig contended would be desirable to some housing developer.

"It is marketable right now," Radig said in an interview with the Journal after the weekly county board meeting, where he had discussed selling other tiny tracts of land owned by the county.

Board Chairman Matthew Ung after the meeting said he isn't sure Radig's proposal will pan out, but added the county should at least explore it once Radig brings a fleshed-out proposal. Radig had twice before mentioned the sale of Prairie Hills at the end of a weekly board meeting, when supervisors can bring up random concerns.

"If it is a good idea, do the homework and bring it to the board with details," Ung said.

Since 2015, county officials have signaled that Prairie Hills will be closed. The supervisors said it could cost millions to modernize the Prairie Hills facility, which has numerous flaws associated with upkeep.

Located just east of Sioux City limits on County Road D25, the main Prairie Hills building is 100 years old. It was initially a so-called County Home, an institutional place for paupers and others. A wing was added in 1975, with two large classrooms, a full-size gymnasium and a large weight room and workout area for employee training.

Radig said the county could list the Prairie Hills building and roughly three acres with a commercial real estate agent. He said it would be a good spot for apartments or condominiums.

He said the county might sell the building for $1 per square foot to a developer, who may have to spend $1 million to renovate the century-old facility. Radig said any such developer would be financially way ahead, when compared to creating a new building at a cost of $5 million or more.

Radig said the county could later consider selling more of the north surrounding Prairie Hills land for a new housing development. He said the area is a popular spot.

"Whispering Creek is not very far away," Radig said of a growing housing addition in Sioux City.

The county converted Prairie Hills to a jail annex in 2000. The facility survived a possible closure in February 2009, when $300,000 worth of repairs were proposed. A 12-year-old program hailed as a way to help inmates with alcohol problems and reduce jail numbers was ended at Prairie Hills in 2015.

County officials have said it would cost an estimated $8.8 million to fully modernize Prairie Hills. After one county supervisor called the aging structure "a money pit," they have nixed that size of an expenditure, and instead are making plans to modernize the downtown jail in the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center, at 407 Seventh St.

Radig said if the county is going to stop using the building, it should not sit empty and deteriorate.

"Why would we allow a building to be let go like that?" he asked.

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County and education reporter

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