Planning for a new Effingham County Jail will go forward, and the new jail will be built near the site of the current one, county commissioners decided Tuesday.
In a 5-1 vote, commissioners chose a plan that will incorporate parts of the current jail and the prison into the design, which will result in a 332-bed facility. They chose not to build a new jail on the site of the Central Learning Center, which would have put the facility amidst a residential neighborhood.
“It satisfies the criteria of getting greater than 200 beds,” said Ryan Price, vice president of Rives Worrell Company. “(The scheme) provides the greatest value for the county. It reuses existing county facilities and resources.”
The design-build team went through months of site analysis and schematic designs, coming up with five potential designs and presenting three of them to commissioners.
“Toward determining the most appropriate site, we went through a number of steps in our site planning and site analysis process,” said Buddy Golson, vice president and director of the criminal design group at Rosser International.
The group looked at how many beds the jail would need, looking forward to 2025. They used two different studies, one conducted by HDR in 2005 and another conducted by the Georgia Sheriffs Association in 2009. The HDR study projected the need for inmate space to go from 150 to 179 in 2011 and based 5 percent to 8 percent growth, to reach 522 in 2025. The Sheriffs Association called for inmate bed space to go from 148 to 179 in 2010 and from 344 to 418 in 2025.
The design-build group put its beds needs projections at 382 in 2025.
“Our experience is it’s not the lowest and it’s not the highest,” Golson said. “We felt both (studies) were well done and commissioning another analysis would not yield more information and would cost the county additional fees.
“We think it’s a pretty good target, based on some recent trends.”
The layout recommended to the commissioners, and eventually adopted, would give the sheriff’s office 69,999 square feet and room for 332 prisoners. Under the proposed budget for the jail, $16.325 million, the design-build team figures the size jail built for that estimate would accommodate about 200 inmate beds, at 59,000 square feet. Special purpose local option sales tax proceeds are being designated for the jail construction.
The jail’s construction costs are estimated to be $12.988 million out of the original budget, with nearly $2.6 million in what termed “soft costs.” At that estimate, the jail to be built would be approximately 58,000 square feet. The layout approved by commissioners is expected to cost $17.42 million. The county has a contingency built-in to the budget of almost $1.5 million.
“We feel we can get close to the budget number as we move forward,” Price said.
The team also looked at the zoning for each site, along with its grading and drainage, access, and the utilities and infrastructure. While the current jail site received positive marks on all those criteria, the school site had drawbacks. It is not zoned for a jail, though Golson said they didn’t think that would be a problem.
But access was a problem.
“Bringing in inmates and squad cars in past a residential zone would not rank very highly,” Golson said.
The school site was flat but Golson said they believed they would have to bring in dirt as fill to get the needed drainage. It also lacked adequate water — there is a 4-inch well judged to be insufficient to provide water and the nearest water lines are almost three-quarters of a mile away.
Getting the school site ready in order to build a new jail was estimated to bump the cost by more than $580,000.
One of the designs called for a new 200-bed jail will be built while the current facility remains in use. The inmates and staff then would be moved from the existing jail, slated for demolition into the new jail.
But with more space needed, county officials prodded the design-build group to see what could be used from the existing jail. County Administrator David Crawley and project manager Adam Kobek asked the team if there was any way to reuse portions of the existing complex.
“They challenged us to find a way to re-utilize some portion of the existing building.” Golson said.
“What that scheme does is develop a 200-bed jail in the center, but it connects to the existing prison and to the existing jail. Both of these functions could be utilized for another 128 beds. The analysis our team did of the existing building is that a portion could be demolished and a one-story piece could be renovated into a sheriff’s office. We would gain more square footage for the sheriff’s office. The exciting part of this scheme is not only can we deliver the 200 beds for the budget and we can increase it by 128 beds, and we can provide additional space for the sheriff’s office that would not be possible. New space costs more than renovated space.”
Added Crawley: “We have to get as many beds as we can get and re-use some of what we have. The team has done a lot of work.”
Kobek said adding the beds isn’t expected to require additional personnel.
“You’re also getting a whole new façade from stem to stern,” he said.
Commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler, the lone dissenting vote, said the current jail location is prime real estate that could be redeveloped. He preferred a design that placed a 200-bed jail at the old school site.
“If we’re going to move the jail facility, now is the time to do it,” he said.
Moving the jail also would allow the county to build “a landmark of progress, and not a jailhouse” on a prominent piece of land along Highway 21.
As of Tuesday, there were 130 inmates at the Effingham County Jail, with 30 more housed outside the county. Most — 16 — are in the Screven County Jail. The jail has a capacity of 130 inmates and the average daily population is 145. The peak population has reached nearly 175.
Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said it costs the county about $18,000 a month to house prisoners out of county, “and that doesn’t count fuel costs. That’s just housing.”
The recommended design also allows the sheriff’s office to bring all of its units under one roof. The current jail, built in 1993 under a federal court order and 35,000 square feet, has been plagued by leaks and structural problems.
“Everything was rushed,” Crawley said. “It was poorly designed, and it was poorly built.”
Since the builder of the current jail is no longer in business, commissioners asked what recourse they have should the proposed jail have building flaws.
“You have the contract in your hand,” Price said. “It’s our reputation on the line. We’re not going away.”
McDuffie estimated it would take 22 months to build. If the county chose to build a 200-bed jail, “by the time we walk into it, it’s full,” he said.
Commissioners awarded the design-build contract in September 2011 to a team from Rives Worrell, Rosser International and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung.