Artist's rendering from Winona County, Klein McCarthy Architects
A city of Winona board gave Winona County's new jail exceptions to downtown aesthetic rules, such as a minimum number of windows, but required the county add some fake windows.

Winona OKs jail design, requires fake windows




An altercation over fenestration was averted through negotiation Wednesday. 

The design for the new Winona County Jail survived its time before the city of Winona Board of Adjustment (BOA) mostly unscathed. Jail designers were granted variances, allowing the building to deviate from aesthetic zoning laws that would otherwise apply through the incorporation of fake windows in the design. 

Zoning code would normally call for 60 percent transparency, that is, a certain amount of windows or possibly other design elements that provide variety to a facade. However, the jail architects requested the city allow them to use only a “minimal” amount of windows.

However, the Board tacked on a new requirement. At least 40 percent of the north and south facades of the building must be covered by “transparency”, and since the fact the building will be a jail means there can’t be many actual windows, the transparency requirement will instead be satisfied by what Board members termed “fake windows.” 

The faux windows will be designed to prevent the jail from presenting an unbroken blank wall to passersby. Travellers crossing the bridge from Wisconsin to Winona will see the jail as one of the first landmarks in the city, which played a role in the board’s decision. 

BOA member Tim Breza asked if there were any alternatives to a blank wall design he described as “Tut’s tomb.” 

Architect Danielle Reid of Klein McCarthy said other than the obvious security concerns windows presented, it was also to comply with a state Department of Corrections rule that there be “sight and sound separation” between the inmates and the public. However, the no-window rule was not uniform throughout the facility. “We’ve been able to provide some fenestration for staff areas,” Reid said. Prisoner housing pods would still get natural light via skylights, she said. 

City Planner Carlos Espinosa said the 60-percent requirement was designed for commercial and other private buildings, not a unique public building like a jail. “It’s a little bit difficult, translating the high transparency standards for those types of building, to a building like this that has a significantly different style of use.” he said.

However, in response to a question from Breza, Espinosa said that government buildings were not exempt from zoning ordinances. 

Reid said security concerns required that the jail mostly consist of one floor, as opposed to the zoning code requirement of three floors for a building in that area of downtown. 

“For transferring and safely securing and swapping inmates through the facility, it was imperative that everything be on one level — without stairs, without ramps,” Reid said. 

The housing area would be the exception, with the cell blocks stacked on multiple floors. 

security concerns required that the jail mostly consist of one floor, as opposed to the zoning code requirement of three floors for a building in that area of downtown. 

That variance, as well as a variance for the amount of lot frontage occupied by the building, were both granted without much controversy. It was the window variance that generated the most discussion. 

BOA member Travis Buege thought putting faux windows would seem arbitrary.

“I just don’t want it to look like there’s a bunch of windows slapped [on] there,” he said. 

BOA chair Chris Sanchez said it was about continuity of aesthetics. 

“If you’re driving in downtown Winona … it’s going to catch your eye and [you’ll say] ‘Why is that building different?’” he said. “That’s what we’re trying not to do downtown.”

Ultimately the BOA settled on a compromise, inspired in part by the fake windows on the facade of nearby Bay State Milling’s new warehouse. County Administrator Ken Fritz appeared to be on board with the fake window idea, at least in the context of putting them on one side of the building. “We’re amenable to that,” he said. “I know it’s a little more money, but I think it’s something that we do have to consider.”


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