Designers unveil building plans for ICE facility outside Evanston

Sean Butler of Butler-Cohen Design & Build shares details of the plans for building an immigration detention center near Bear River State Park in Evanston during a meeting with local officials Wednesday morning. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — “We are holding this meeting with Sheriff Doug Matthews and Chief Deputy Rowdy Dean because we wanted to show them what the detention facility would look like and answer any questions,” Eric Cohen said.  

Cohen and Sean Butler of the Butler-Cohen Build & Design firm based in Houston held a meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Uinta County Commission conference room on Wednesday, Nov. 20, the morning after both the county commission and Evanston City Council voted unanimously to support an immigration jail in Evanston. There were five local citizens who attended the Wednesday morning meeting: Eric Mander, Dave Tanner, Dave Black, Rudy Aimone and LaWanna Staley.  

Cohen said his company has designed and built county and federal facilities all over the U.S. but this is the first one they have designed for CoreCivic, the latest company to show interest in running the proposed detention center. He explained that they began the design process in June of 2019 and they are still working on it but they wanted to show the preliminary plan.  

Using computer generated pictures, Cohen and Butler described each aspect of the proposed detention facility for Uinta County. The 1-mile road leading to the 293,000-square-foot facility will have an 85-foot wide easement. Water and sewer lines will be brought in and paid for by CoreCivic but will hook into the city system. CoreCivic will also be responsible for natural gas and power installation.  

Butler said the American Correctional Association (ACA) sets the standards for any correctional facility and everything in their design meets those standards. One requirement is for a “muffin monster” addition to the sewer system, which officials already purchased and installed earlier this year.

A comment was made by Eric Mander that the location where they are planning to build the facility is in low ground and asked how they would manage the sewer system going up-hill.

Cohen responded that if they needed to, they would add a pump to the design to accommodate any problems connecting to the city sewer lines. He said the design also includes a 300,000-gallon underground water tank for fire suppression.

Dave Black asked, “What about the environmental impact?”

Butler and Cohen both said that there is someone else who is working on that study. She will consider all aspects and submit her results to all entities involved. 

In describing the facility’s lighting, which was brought up as a concern since the detention center would be so close to Interstate 80 and Bear River State Park, Cohen said the lights will be directional and pointed down but they may have to add more light poles to accommodate the RFP. The final rendering of the design will show day and night lighting.

The design includes a parking lot in the front with a central entrance. There will be an 8,000 square foot storage facility; a vehicular entrance and loading dock on the front side of the building for deliveries; two 16 foot high fences surrounding the facility with razor wire on top and between the two fences, and both will have an electronic  detection system and cameras that will look down, in and out. A patrol road will be placed around the perimeter of the detention center for added security.

Three outdoor recreation yards for soccer, basketball, etc., will be adjacent to the building and inside the fences. A fire lane road with hydrants will surround the building. Gates into the facility will be controlled by intercom.

Dave Tanner said, “We get a lot more snow and wind here than you do in Texas. How do you plan on dealing with snow removal? Is there enough room between the buildings and the fences?”

Butler said there will be a 200-foot distance between the building and the road surrounding it so that should allow enough room for snow removal. The outside walls will be pre-cast concrete, 3 inches thick and 20 feet tall, with 3 inches of insulation and a 3-inch concrete interior wall that is 18 feet tall. Because of the height of the walls, there will be a need for acoustical treatment to alleviate the noise factor. Lots of security windows and sky lights will allow natural lighting. Cohen said all of this is an ACA requirement for any detention center or prison.

Dave Black said there will be only one road into the facility and asked if that would meet emergency requirements.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Sheriff Matthews said. “We have only one road into the jail and if absolutely necessary we can drive over the sagebrush.”

Chief Deputy Rowdy Dean said, “The design is very similar to a jail.”

Dave Tanner asked Cohen for a completion date on the detention center.

“Once the contract is awarded to CoreCivic, it takes four months to complete the final rendering of the design documents and then construction will start and be completed within 18 months,” Cohen said. “So there is 24 months from design to completion of the detention center. What you are seeing today was put together on Nov. 13, but we had many others (designs) before this one.”

Butler and Cohen then described the interior of the center, which includes a lobby for visitors and private rooms when needed for visitation. The intake area will be in the front of the building adjacent to the medical area, where inmates will be processed and examined for any diseases or other medical issues.  

The American Correctional Association requires the design to include a lot of space for administrative offices for ICE, which in Butler-Cohen’s design comprises approximately half of the west end of the building. Near the intake area and the ICE offices, there is a courtroom where ICE will process detainees.  

Tanner said, “I was under the understanding that the detainees would be transported to Salt Lake City for their court appearance.”

Sheriff Matthews responded, “More of that will be done right here at the facility in their court room.”

Behind the intake area, will be a commissary, kitchen and dining halls. The facility includes a library, classrooms, a laundry room and a chapel that will accommodate diverse religions. 

Detainees will be housed in pods containing 40 beds in each. The detention center will house 800 males and 200 females, located at the east half of the building. There will be a multitude of cameras for security monitoring 24/7. Each pod will have a segregated area for use when needed with room for two people per cell. 

As required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the female section will have a concrete wall separating it from the male section and will include its own medical area, classroom spaces and a special housing area for use when needed. The female section can also function as an isolated unit. Both male and female pods have separate indoor and outdoor recreation areas.  Both sections will have a shower area and bathroom facilities.

Eric Mander asked, “What can this building be used for later if not used for a detention center?”

Cohen responded, “All of the facilities that we’ve built are still being used — as a jail or prison.”

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