Jail, placard decisions on hold

Jail, placard decisions on hold

Second opinion about cracks in walls not as alarming as first

URBANA — After receiving a second opinion on cracks in exterior walls at the county's satellite jail in east Urbana, Champaign County Board members voted Thursday to send the issue back to a committee.

Board members also discussed but took no action on a report regarding food service inspections in areas outside of Champaign-Urbana. The county board of health has asked the county board to require that color-coded inspection placards be displayed at hundreds of food service institutions outside of the twin cities.

"We're not causing any more regulation," said Rantoul Republican Stan James, a supporter of the placards. "All we're doing is posting something simple for us country folks to read when we walk into a restaurant, instead of reading a 15-page report about what they deem of no concern to us."

But several board members questioned whether a report that found that businesses in the county that voluntarily posted placards and got higher scores was valid.

"You can't look at this as a study that was created and done in what I would call an impartial way. That's why I wouldn't find it compelling," said Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry.

The health inspection placards are required at food service institutions in Champaign-Urbana.

Board chairman Alan Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat, said he believed the placard issue would be back on the agenda next month.

Regarding the satellite jail issue, board members earlier this month heard from structural engineer John Frauenhoffer of Champaign who said that cracks in the precast concrete panels were "a latent structural defect" that needed repair because steel connections supporting the building's foundation were corroding.

"I think what's important is that you don't let too much time go by before you get this underway," Frauenhoffer told members of the board's facilities committee.

He called the building's structural design "a house of cards."

But another opinion, obtained this week in a report from Northbrook structural engineer Howard Hill, was less alarming.

Hill, of the engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., said that "the cracking of the exterior wall panels that we observed has not had a serious impact on the structural integrity of the affected panels."

He said that "if the panels were properly designed, fabricated and constructed so as to be capable of sustaining applicable design demands, the observed cracking would not give us reason to believe they can no longer do so."

But he cautioned that "the cracking is problematic in that it can promote additional deterioration, which, if left unaddressed, could lead to structural and functional problems.

"The cracks and other features of the facility can be modified so as to greatly reduce the amount of water entering the panels, which would have a commensurate impact on the rate of future panel degradation."

The county's administrative team, which had been prepared to ask for a structural investigation of the 18-year-old satellite jail, instead recommended that the issue be sent back to the facilities committee for more evaluation. The panel meets Sept. 2.

Sheriff Dan Walsh, who asked for the second study, said he was comfortable sending the issue back to the committee.

"I have employees in there. I have inmates in there. I was concerned that by the time we got through with all these borings and core samples and 'the house of cards,' as he said, that something bad could happen," Walsh said. "So I located this engineer ... and the money is coming out of my budget."

Four of the 22 board members were absent from the meeting, including Republicans Gary Maxwell and Stan Harper, and Democrats Lloyd Carter and Astrid Berkson.

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