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County digs into jail work
Building will replace aging facility that is 10 years past lifespan
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Effingham County commissioners Forrest Floyd, Phil Kieffer, Chairman Wendall Kessler, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, Commissioner Steve Mason, Terry Gossett with Rives Worrell, Robert Armstrong with Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung, and Commissioners Vera Jones and Reggie Loper turn over the ceremonial shovels of dirt to mark the start of work on the new county jail. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

It might be a couple of years before Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie can move jail inmates and his personnel into a brand-new building. But he’s already looking forward to that day.

County officials and representatives from the design-build team held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new jail and sheriff’s office complex, not far from the front door of the current jail that has been plagued by problems since it opened.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said the sheriff. “We’ve been trying to work on this project for several years. It looks like it’s finally coming to fruition.”

Estimates last year called for the project to be done in about 22 months. Currently, the sheriff’s office doesn’t have room at its jail for all the inmates under its supervision. Sheriff McDuffie said the county spends approximately $216,000 a year to house its overflow in other county jails.

“This is money we can bring back into our community,” he said.

The new jail will be more than 51,000 square feet. It will be bigger and more secure than the jail the sheriff’s office has had for nearly 21 years — a building Sheriff McDuffie and county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler pointed out was built at the dictum of a federal judge.

But the building, ordered to be constructed after the county was sued in federal court because of its jail, was only designed to last 10 years, McDuffie said.

“Every day it gets worse and worse,” he said. “We’re spending more and more money on it. We found out in our engineering this was a 10-year design and we’ve been in it 20 years.”

The planned jail, designed and built by Rosser International, Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung, and Rives Worrell, will cost approximately $16.2 million. Funding was approved through the most recent special local option sales tax vote, and the jail was deemed to be a tier 1 project. That means the SPLOST dollars will come off the top.

“Projects such as constructing a jail are never easy to approve and just as difficult to fund,” Kessler said. “This project is necessary for Effingham County. Our facility lacks the ability to proper classify and segregate offenders while suffering from a host of symptoms caused by quick construction of the facility under pressure of a federal mandate.”

Among the upgrades will be a new kitchen and laundry facility to accommodate the jail inmates and those housed next door at the Effingham County Prison. With the 204 spaces in the jail and 128 beds in the prison, Effingham County can hold up to 332 prisoners. Jail inmates and prison inmates will be separated at all times. The new jail also will have video visitation and video arraignment, negating the need to take prisoners to the judicial complex for proceedings.

“By using smart technology, this building will allow our facility to house more with using less staffing,” McDuffie said. “Building a new jail is something I never wanted to do. But there’s a need in our community for more detention space.”

The sheriff’s office also is getting a new office complex, and it will allow Sheriff McDuffie to bring in units currently housed in buildings throughout the county under one roof.

It also will be a building that will be built for the future. The current jail is 35,000 square feet and has room for 130 inmates. The new jail will have two- and four-man cells, along with its own medical suite, isolation unit and a special-needs unit.

“We want a building that’s energy efficient, sustainable and when we need to add on hopefully in 25-30 years from now, it’s easy to add on to,” he said.

As modern and up-to-date as the new jail will be, Kessler said he hopes it won’t have that  many guests.

“While this is a necessary project, I hope this is the last time we have to expand these walls,” he said. “This will not a building we will not want to visit.”