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County starts to weigh options on new jail
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Ryan Price of R.J. Griffin talks about the next steps in building a new jail with county commissioners on Tuesday. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

A needs assessment is expected to answer some of the questions Effingham County commissioners have about building a new jail.

A new jail was at the top of the list for special purpose local option sales tax-funded projects, passed last year. Commissioners backed building a new jail but also wanted to see how big it should be and where it should be built.

"We’ve got to find out what we need," said Commissioner Reggie Loper. "We have to find that out before we can do anything, really and truly."

Said Commissioner Bob Brantley, who was part of a group that toured five jails across the state: "I feel we need to decide on what we need and then start. That’s why I didn’t want to go look at any more jails until we decide on what we need."

Commissioners will follow a phased approach, beginning with

a needs assessment, followed by programming the construction and then the design/build stage. In June, commissioners selected a design/build team of R.W. Griffin, Rives Worrell, Rosser International and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung.

The current facility, built in the early 1990s, has been occupied since 1993 but has been beset with problems since. It was built under a federal mandate when the previous jail was considered to be in poor condition and lacked adequate space.

"We’ve had issues since the building was completed," said county project manager Adam Kobek.

Designed originally to hold 106 inmates, there are approximately 145 inmates in Effingham County Sheriff’s Office custody now, according to Kobek. Triple bunks were brought in 2008 to increase the capacity to 130.

But prisoners above and beyond the number that the 27,844 square foot jail can handle are sent to other county jails and the price tag for that over the last 15 months is just over $350,000, Kobek said. Effingham County has a pact with Screven County for Screven to house at least 20 Effingham jail inmates at a reduced rate of $20 per day.

County Administrator David Crawley said it’s been hard to pin down the costs per day per prisoner kept in the Effingham Jail.

There are also 15 females in the facility with only 12 beds for females.

Among the issues with the building are an intercom system that has been rendered obsolete, locks that started falling out in 1994 and heating, ventilation and air conditioning complaints dating back to 1995.

The roof was replaced in 2003 and the county has worked on a needs assessment for a new jail as far back as 2004. A Georgia Sheriff’s Association assessment pointed out design flaws, environmental issues and staffing problems. An environmental study was done in 2007 and a structural report was done in 2008, with more issues reported.

"Most of the issues cited were everything from cracks, mold and microbial growth, doors and windows rusting through," Kobek said.

Growth projections at 5 percent put the need for beds at 297 and 8 percent growth put the total number of beds at 522.

Also to be determined are the size of the cells, areas to segregate prisoners, medical facilities, kitchen areas, ancillary spaces and drunk tanks.

"In a project this size, there’s lot of variables that have to discussed before we talk in concrete terms of price," Kobek said. "It’s difficult to give a package price on what it will cost."

The design/build team toured the current jail last week.

"We do like the fact we’re moving forward," said Ryan Price, vice president and group manager of RJ Griffin. "We’ve looked at the existing jail. But we really need to identify what the requirements are of the program to help you move forward."

Eric Johnson of Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung said the design/build team will keep the commissioners apprised and involved in the process.

"It’s not like you execute a contract and the next time you see us is at the groundbreaking," he said. "We’ll slowly walk through process. While the assessment has a specific means of analyzing what your growth patterns, the next phase is the schematic design phase. At that point, we can put rough numbers on the cost of providing the number of beds and make decisions as a group. Everybody’s going to be at the table helping make the critical decisions at the appropriate time. We’ll have time where you can back off and put things on hold.

"This is a good, steady process. This one has a whole bunch of options."

Commissioner Vera Jones cautioned against building a jail that would be considered too big and added the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia warned against building a facility big enough to bring in more state inmates.

"They said do not build a new jail to house more state prisoners than you need, because it will get filled up by state prisoners and your local taxpayers are going to bear that burden," she said. "I know local taxpayers do not want to bear that burden."

Also to be determined is where to build the jail. The current state prison sits on land where a jail expansion was planned. The county could opt to keep the jail near its current facility, relocating such offices as public works and vehicle maintenance to make way.

That site also has the advantage of having water and sewer service available.

Another site, at the old Springfield Elementary School, has been looked at. But Jones said the residents there are against it.

"If you build a facility there," Kobek said of the spot near the current jail, "you’re going to be locked into that hill for a very long time. Both have pros and cons. It’s all a matter of what direction the board wants to go in."