New jail cost estimates range from $8.9M to $15.7M
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Members of the Henry County Jail Committee were presented four options for future jail needs during their meeting Monday night at the Henry County Courthouse.
Options presented by Prochaska & Associates, the Omaha, Neb. firm commissioned to do a feasibility study on jail needs in the county, ranged in cost from $8,903,640 to $15,796,270.
Costs given were in today’s dollars and James Classe, an architect with Prochaska, said that costs could rise by 4-5 percent if a jail were built in 2018. Costs were estimated at $309 per square foot. “That is projected as the average 2018 construction cost,” Classe said.
The most economical option (option 1A) was renovating and expanding the existing law enforcement center and jail to 44 beds with expansion room for a 36-bed addition. The cost of the option is $8,903,640.
Second on the list was option 1B, or construction of a new law enforcement center and a 44-bed jail (with expansion room for 30 more beds) at the current site. That option had a sticker of $9,654,970. The current sheriff’s office would be replaced with a two-story office.
A new law enforcement center and a 44-bed jail on county-owned land near South Iris Street and Young House (termed the Greenfield option) was projected to cost $9,031,980. There would be expansion room for an additional 36 beds.
The final option was converting the current jail into a hold-and-transport session. Although construction costs were barely over $1.5 million, the cost of out-of-county transport and housing of inmates in other county facilities was estimated at $14,276,870 over the next 20 years.
Although the committee did not vote on a preference, those who did offer opinions favored the “Greenfield option,” or the building of a new law enforcement center and jail on county-owned property.
However, there were flies in the ointment on all options. There were space and parking concerns on Options 1A and 1B (retaining the facility at the current site), and zoning would have to be changed for the Greenfield option. Jack Swarm, city planning and zoning administrator, also said it is difficult to get utilities to the site and the facility would be in the airport’s flight plan, restricting the height of the building. Permission would also have to be gained from the Federal Aviation Administration to build on the Greenfield site.
Classe said he was somewhat surprised by the cost estimates. “It is not normal that a new facility is not that much more expensive than renovating a building.”
In his cost analysis, Classe said the facility would be more economical if Mt. Pleasant were close to an urban center. “If you are close to an urban area, it helps costs because it is easier to get sub-contractors.”
A new jail has been studied and proposed twice previously this century and bond issues, held a year apart, narrowly failed.
Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee has resurrected the study of a new facility, largely because of the cost borne by the county to house its inmates in other facilities. Henry County currently has an eight-bed jail and most of its offenders are taken to the Louisa County Jail.
McNamee said the county has spent between $1.5 million and $1.6 million since the year 2000 in housing and transporting inmates to other facilities, including $600,000 in the past three or four years. The average daily population at the jail has been between 20 and 25 inmates.
Another potential pitfall of either renovating or building on the existing site is that “construction would have to be phased in,” Classe noted. “It is a tricky process because you would still be operating a law enforcement center and jail during construction. The law enforcement people would have to work around the contractors and vice versa.”
McNamee said the county is somewhat “under the gun” to get something done because the state jail inspector is becoming impatient. “Thus far, we have pacified the inspector because he knows we are working on something. However, if we don’t do anything we could be shut down, or told we have to do a lot of things to meet state standards. We fall under the 1981 jail standards and currently are out of compliance with current standards.”
After seeing the cost estimates, McNamee said he is leaning toward the Greenfield site. “I am leaning toward that way because it is cleaner and newer. It is about the same price (as building or renovating at the current site). I think a new building is the smarter decision because it is about the same money.”
Whatever the committee decides, it will need a strong selling campaign, Mike Hampton, committee chairman said. “The committee is really going to have to educate the public.”
Originally, the committee hoped to have a bond election in May but admitted Monday night that a May date might be too rushed. If the election is not held in May, the next available date would be in August.
All of the committee’s minutes, schematics and drawings of proposed options are on the county’s website.
Next tentative meeting date for the committee is Monday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m., at the courthouse.