Boone County Justice Center: Building for a Healthier Community

November/December 2023

The Boone County Commissioners held an event on Nov. 9 for the general public to view the progress and vision for the Boone County Justice Center. The event included a virtual reality tour and fly-through video presentation. These tours offer a detailed preview of the Justice Center’s design and layout, providing a sense of the facility’s significance to Boone County.

We spoke with Boone County Sheriff Tony Harris and a couple of other county department heads who will relocate to the Justice Center upon its completion, which is slated for 2025.

Boone County Justice Center

Purposeful Planning for the Current and Growing Population

Discussions on a proposed justice center for Boone County began in 2015 with then-county commissioners, county councilmembers, and former Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen. Nielsen is currently the Boone County Executive Project Manager and is overseeing the construction of the justice center, collaborating with a myriad of teams and departments throughout the process. Nielsen reports directly to the [current] county commissioners: Donnie Lawson, Jeff Wolfe and Tim Beyer [Zionsville].

While [2015] metrics mapped out the projected growth in the county’s population and justified the need for the expansions to the existing jail in Lebanon, Indiana, the commissioners and impacted [county] department heads could not have predicted the $3.7 billion Eli Lilly development and the IEDC’s LEAP District in Boone County that are currently underway. These projects will have an enormous impact on the county’s growth. The Boone County Justice Center will offer efficiency, convenience and cost savings by bringing together multiple legal, judicial, medical and mental health services under one roof. The Justice Center is rethinking criminal justice for the community, and rather than “warehousing” people, it will focus on their rehabilitation.

The Boone County Justice Center will benefit a growing county by addressing the challenges associated with increased caseloads, providing scalable infrastructure, ensuring resource efficiency, enhancing community accessibility, and supporting the overall effectiveness and confidence in the legal system.

Boone County Justice Center

“The Justice Center project is well underway, and it’s a great feeling to see buildings take shape and what that means for our community and respective agencies,” said Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks. “For me, this is taking our office from struggling to meet the demand for service as a result of growth to a place that will not only meet those needs today but for many years to come.”

Sparks spoke about Nielsen’s role as the center’s project manager. “As a public safety professional, I am a doer—I use the tools at hand to solve problems. What I am not is a professional builder or construction project manager. Fortunately, the commissioners have Mike Nielsen in that role. I couldn’t have imagined going into this project the amount of interface required between the building side and the department heads. Mike has been an amazing asset in this role. We, the department heads, get weekly emails on the status of the project, upcoming milestones, and various other information points. That’s huge for us because it allows us to continue to focus on meeting the missions we do daily and not diverting us to construction issues full-time. This also provides a central point for information and communication. I think the commissioners have built a great team to accomplish this goal. I am thankful to the residents of Boone County for their support and look forward to the facility’s opening!”

Boone County Corrections Executive Director Michael Nance shared a statement on behalf of his department and Chief Probation Officer Steve Owens.

“Probation and Community Corrections work closely with the Project Manager, Mike Nielsen. We receive weekly updates and attend frequent meetings in order to stay engaged and apprised of project overview and progress. Recently 3D simulations have been made available, which give us the opportunity to more clearly envision what our space will look like when completed. The Project Management team has valued our input, and the Chief Probation Officer and I both are excited for the potential of the space to be able to better serve our clients and the citizens of the county.”

Collaboration Is Key to Staying on Budget and On Time

The commissioners and Nielsen were pleased to report at their event on Nov. 9 that the Justice Center project is currently on schedule and on budget.

Boone County Justice Center

“We are up to 32% complete on the overall project, and we are on budget,” Nielsen stated. “We are ahead of schedule when it comes to having new utilities permanently installed (water, electric, etc.). From a project perspective, it is a huge undertaking and a huge milestone to hit when it comes to having all the utilities completed at this early-stage project.”

Nielsen added, “Right now, we are focused on getting the new Boone County Corrections building and the sheriff’s administration building under [one] roof and enclosed enough so that we can continue to work inside during the winter months. And we feel pretty confident that we can remain on schedule and on budget, which will allow us to turn over the project anywhere between February of 2025 and November of 2025. That’s a long span, but that’s because logistically, there are certain parts of the buildings that we will have to open up earlier than others to ensure that we don’t affect operations within the sheriff’s office.”

The facilities for basic operations, such as the kitchen, laundry and medical services, in addition to booking and holding, have been temporarily and strategically relocated until their respective areas have been constructed.

“Those types of logistics don’t create problems for us, but they are challenges for us to work through so that we don’t interfere with the day-to-day operations of the Sheriff’s Office,” Nielsen emphasized. “We have overcome the challenges because of the team that we’ve put together. Everybody’s working together to make sure that we finish on schedule and on budget. Everything that happens goes through an approval process from the construction side to the internal management side, and then everything goes before the commissioners for final approval.”

Boone County Sheriff Tony Harris also spoke about the logistical planning and temporary relocations that his office has planned throughout the phases of construction.

“BCSO has had to limit some of the classes and that sort of thing only because we don’t have our classrooms [at this phase of construction],” Harris shared. “Capt. Tim Turner [Jail Division Commander] and I had to come up with a plan on how we’re going to process people coming in. We’ve moved all the equipment to another ‘block’ to do the processing: fingerprints, pictures, body scan, etc.”

Harris explained that the new space for BCSO will open up many more services than the previous jail could offer, which will be vital to a growing county population and will provide the necessary space for BCSO to address a critical need for mental health services within its inmate population.

Harris added, “We’ll be able to be much more self-sufficient in Boone County and offer more services once that gets open. We’ve got to get ahead of this growth in [Boone] County. We’ve been so good at working with other [county] departments and municipalities, but we have to continue, as law enforcement, to work together and share information on a daily basis to make sure that we are keeping ahead of crime. We have to continue to be the proactive county that we’ve been.”