Effingham County commissioners determined Tuesday night who they want to build a new jail — where, when and how much it will cost to build will wait for another day.
By a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved entering into negotiations with the design-build team of R.W. Griffin; Rives Worrell; Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung; and Rosser International. The new jail and sheriff’s administrative complex will be paid for with proceeds from the special purpose local option sales tax approved last November by Effingham voters. That SPLOST will go into effect in July 2012, and the jail, as a tier 1 project, will be paid for before any other SPLOST funds are disbursed.
Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said it’s not that he wants a new jail. He said the county needs one.
The current jail and sheriff’s offices were built 18 years ago, and McDuffie has pointed to problems with the building over the last several years, from leaky windows and a leak-plagued roof to rust, corrosion and other structural failings. The sheriff is worried that the building isn’t safe for his employees and for the inmates, and those issues could be exploited by inmates looking to escape.
“My job is the safety of these folks back here and the safety of the citizens of the county,” he said. “But it’s getting to the point where the safety of the community, the safety of the inmates is in such a detrimental state that we have to do something.”
A federal judge’s ruling compelled the county to build a new jail to relieve overcrowding at its then-current facility. That led to the building of the jail 18 years ago, a building designed to last 10 years, according to McDuffie.
The cost of the old building
The Effingham jail has space for 130 inmates but the county has to pay to house inmates out of the county. McDuffie estimates he spends about $27,000 a month, or $324,000 a year, in out of county housing for jail inmates.
In the meantime, repairs to the jail have included $328,000 three years ago in the budget for repairs to the roof and the administrative complex.
“We have spent enough money on this jail we probably could have paid the housing for out of county inmates for two years,” he said.
McDuffie and others visited six other county jails across the state and each trip usually included at least one county commissioner.
The county received packets from 13 teams in its call for qualifications and whittled the list down to four who were invited to provide proposals. Those proposals were reviewed and scored and the four finalists also were interviewed by the committee.
The design-build team was selected unanimously.
“All four recommended team members have a strong local presence and presented a commitment to involving local labor and trades,” said county project manager Adam Kobek.
R.W. Griffin and Rives Worrell are working on the Effingham Hospital expansion and modernization. Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung and Rosser are working on the county’s Goshen Road public safety station. Selection committee members want to see projects the design-build team has constructed.
Commissioners also wanted to make sure the team that is hired to build the new jail uses as much local contractors and subcontractors as possible and have flexibility in the final decision of who to use and of the design.
“All of us felt comfortable with all four of them,” said Commissioner Bob Brantley, who is on the jail selection committee.
Commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler, who was the lone vote in opposition, said he’d rather see the money go toward spurring economic development in the county, such as road work at I-16 and Old River Road to help open up the Industrial Development Authority’s tracts there to prospects, or to paying off the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority’s loans, if possible.
“I don’t have a problem moving forward with the design team,” Brantley said. “But there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
One of the questions to be determined is where a new jail would be built. The county has looked at a site on Wallace Drive near the Central Learning Center and on the hill where the current jail stands. McDuffie is not in favor of moving the jail and the sheriff’s office to Wallace Drive and having the prospect of patrol deputies leaving the office at a high rate of speed through a residential area.
“In that case, I prefer it here on the hill,” he said.
Under one roof — that doesn’t leak
McDuffie also has handful of concerns he wants addressed in a new jail/sheriff’s administrative complex. The sheriff’s office has tried to maximize its current space, moving radios from a closet that offered no protection from the heat into a room that also serves as the room for the ECSO’s computer servers — a room that used to be part of the jail kitchen.
He also wants to have all his departments brought under one roof — humane enforcement is in a handi-house and the drug suppression team has its headquarters in an old house in Springfield.
McDuffie wants to make sure the next building has sustainability, that it can be added onto in the future without requiring a complete renovation. He’s also hoping to have the next jail and sheriff’s office be as “green” as possible.
“I want to try to parallel LEED requirements,” he said, “and save on electricity and water.”
Because of its potential location, McDuffie said the jail will be visible to visitors to the county and he wants to make it look as appealing as possible.
“I think that can be done without being extravagant,” he said. “I think it can be done without seeing a lot of concertina wire and a lot of chain link fence everywhere.”
A newer building also will be safer, McDuffie pointed out — there have been three escapes, involving five prisoners, in the last few years, though all except one where caught within a day.
The county jail, which also receives federal prisoners, could be getting more inmates in the coming years, even as it houses nearly a dozen inmates at other county jails.
“Every day, they’re closing down prisons and detention centers, and those prisoners are coming back to county jails,” McDuffie said. “We might as well get ready for it.”
For now, the ECSO has put in place new rules to handle the jail population and the problems that can cause.
“We have implemented more stringent policies and rules to deal with the overcrowding,” McDuffie said. “It seems to have done a good job. It’s working out good for the inmates and the employees.”