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Commissioners move forward with jail plans
0504 jail front view
A look at the front view of the proposed county jail and sheriffs office.

Work on a new sheriff’s office and jail could begin later this year, after Effingham County commissioners approved a work authorization for the next two phases.

Commissioners, in a 5-0 vote, approved the work authorization for phases 2 and 3 of the sheriff’s office and jail, and so far, cost estimates put the work below the estimated budget.

The new jail will be designed to have 332 beds, an increase of 197 over the current facility. Original cost estimates put the work on the jail — from planning and preparation to construction — at just over $16.5 million. Current projections put the spending at $15,000 below the estimate, and more savings could be in the offing, according to county project manager Adam Kobek.

"We have two additional options that could reduce the project by an additional $187,000," Kobek said.

The next phase of the work would complete the design and construction documents but would require further board approval to commence building.

Commissioners approved a design-build team last September to put together design and site selection criteria, along with project programming.

A design-build team of R.J. Griffin, Rives Worrell, Rosser International and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung has put together the plans for the new jail and will be constructing the facility. The new jail and sheriff’s office will be built on the site of the current jail and office, and some of the existing structure will be used in the construction of the new complex.

"Since then, the sheriff, the design-build team and county staff have been working hard on site selection, schematics, design and pricing," Kobek said. "The building and design at this point service the necessary functions of the sheriff’s office and jail, while providing for future growth in terms of detainees and staff," Kobek said. "The project is within budget while maximizing the use of existing buildings and infrastructure."

The existing sheriff’s office will be reused, and space in the existing prison also will be reused, said Ryan Price, vice president of Rives Worrell.

"We’re going to take the existing sheriff’s office back to the structure and foundation, and then refurbish and renovate that facility," he said.

The prison has laundry and kitchen facilities that will be modernized and rehabilitated and dormitory space that will be re-used, Price added.

"All three of these buildings will be connected with one façade that will give you a uniform architectural line of sight," he said.

Workers will tear down the two-story building at the jail, and a new building, housing the jail and support functions, will go up. The plan also calls for using 128 beds in the adjoining Effingham County Prison.

Two dorms from the prison will be used for weekend probationers, work release and minimum security housing.

"All of this has been tied together with a circulation system and go from building to building and stay inside the entire complex," said Buddy Golson, vice president of Rosser International. "When you ride along 21, you’re going to see a brand new complex. The whole idea is to be able to take three components and tie those things together architecturally with a wall system and make it all look brand new and all one building."

The prison inmates and the jail inmates will be separated at all times, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said. For one thing, those in the prison have been found guilty of a crime and are serving a sentence. Many jail inmates are there before their court proceedings begin, and their guilt or innocence has yet to be determined.

"There will be no intermingling between the two," McDuffie said. "There’s going to be some adjustments. This is a design that has not been done anywhere in the state of Georgia."

There also will not be any additional staff hired for the new jail. There will be one 32-bed unit for females, a 48-bed minimum security area for males, two 48-bed medium security housing units and a 16-bed maximum security area. There also will be an isolation unit and a special-needs unit that can be supervised by one officer.

The entire jail and sheriff’s office complex will be more than 74,000 square feet. Golson said the life span of the building should be 50 to 75 years. The current jail, less than 20 years old, is 35,000 square feet and has room for 130 inmates.

"It’s not going to be what we had before," Rosser said.

With no space at the current jail, the county often houses inmates in nearby counties that have room at their jails — but at a price.

"The sheriff is working to reduce the number of inmates we have housed outside the county today and to lessen the impact on the general fund," Kobek said.

Moving the sheriff’s dispatchers from the sheriff’s office to the 911 call center could free up 400 square feet and could cut $87,000 from the project. But Sheriff McDuffie is insistent upon keeping his dispatch unit at the sheriff’s office.

"I want to make them understand the necessity of the dispatchers," he said.

Price estimated it will take 10 weeks to complete design development documents.

"We hope to have an early release to start construction for site work, foundation and structure of the facility in late August," he said.

The first phase, to include the new housing wing, new parking for the sheriff’s office and jail administration and renovation to the existing prison, should take a year. The next phase would be the demolition of the two-story portion of the jail, followed by the renovation of the sheriff’s office.

The entire process is expected to take 22 months.

"It’s been a long process; it’s been an exciting process," Price said.