Panel supports zone change for evidence storage facility

Building could be ready next spring
By: 

Leader Photo by Tim Ryan Steve Dreher, Shawano County building maintenance supervisor, lays out plans for an evidence storage center Tuesday before the Shawano Plan Commission.

Shawano County is hoping its new and long-awaited evidence storage center will finally be in operation by spring after getting the green light Tuesday from the Shawano Plan Commission for a zoning change.

The rezoning request for the facility, which would be located at 210 W. Second St., still needs to be approved by the Common Council when it meets on Wednesday.

The county is requesting that zoning be changed from single-family and two-flat residential to planned development to make way for a 7,200-square-foot building.

“It’s been a long road to hoe for Shawano County,” said Steve Dreher, county building maintenance supervisor. “A lot of people have been working a long time to facilitate the construction of the evidence storage facility. It’s something that’s badly needed by Shawano County and the subsequent jurisdictions that it supports.”

County Board Chairman Jerry Erdmann told the commission the facility has been discussed by the board for years.

“Finally, it came to a head a couple of months back,” he said. “It took a lot of discussion and a lot of hard work by staff.”

Erdmann said that in the end it was supported by every member of the board.

“We need this,” he said. “We know we need this. Our partners know we need this.”

The Shawano County Board voted in June to invest $1 million in the building, though there could be assistance from other agencies that might also want to make use of it, including Stockbridge-Munsee and Shawano police.

Evidence storage needs have been a recurring issue for the county since at least 2005, when a consultant found that existing facilities were inadequate. With county leaders unable to agree on a solution, the sheriff’s department has been renting storage space at a cost of about $20,000 a year.

Several proposals for a separate storage building were shot down by the board over the years, most recently in 2013 when the county board approved a $710,000 evidence storage facility that was to be constructed next to the Huber Work Release Center, but failed to get the supermajority needed to approve borrowing the money for the project.

Two speakers at a public hearing before the commission Tuesday raised objections to the residential location of the facility, citing concerns about aesthetics, noise, lighting and surveillance cameras that could pose privacy issues for neighbors.

Dreher said the facility’s ventilation and mechanicals would be similar to a residential property and not create a lot of noise. He also said exterior lights would be limited to the street sides and parking lot of the facility, and that cameras would be focused only on the building.

The property would be fenced, but not with a chain-link fence, he said.

“We’re trying very hard to blend this with the residential area,” Dreher said.

A question was raised as to why the county doesn’t use vacant property adjacent to the Shawano County Jail, but that was nixed years ago after objections from the nearby Shawano County Historical Society, which wanted to keep the property open for Heritage Park events, Dreher said.

“The county stayed away from that because I’ve seen the historical society mad. I don’t ever want to see it again,” he said.

Assuming the zone change is approved by the Common Council, the county will have to submit site plans and other documents for approval.

Erdmann said after the meeting that he hopes work can begin before the snow starts flying, with completion in the spring.

Erdmann also said the facility differs from what was proposed and repeatedly rejected by county officials during the tenure of former Sheriff Randy Wright.

“It’s different on the inside,” Erdmann said. “If we were to have built this four years ago, six years ago, we would have already been remodeling this building. Because right now the needs for DNA, for blood, all that has gotten so large.”

He said the current half dozen freezers for storing DNA evidence would be replaced by a single walk-in freezer.

“This is a new design,” Erdmann said. “So this building is different from what Randy Wright wanted.”