Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Commissioners again eye whether current jail fixable

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Despite years of “kicking the can down the road,” as some have described the long debate over a bigger jail, some on the Hood County Commissioners Court are back to wondering whether the current facility is salvageable.

If so, it could be used as part of an expansion project rather than a complete rebuild, saving taxpayers millions.

That idea is not new and has been discussed before, but it is being revived again by court members intent on examining every option before making an expensive commitment.

Four items relating to the Hood County Jail, presented by Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews, were on the agenda for the court’s regular meeting on April 25.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson expressed that the considerations meant the county was “starting from scratch,” but Andrews denied that was the case.

“Let’s get a realistic view of what it takes … before we consider spending $100 million on a new facility,” he stated.

Last October, the court considered two options presented by AG/CM, a professional project management firm whose help the court enlisted. Option 1 was to commission programming for a new facility at a cost not to exceed $85,000. Programming is work that is done prior to architectural drawings. It determines what the needs are and how many square feet are required to meet those needs.

Option 2 was programming for renovation of the existing 54,000-square-foot building as well as a 200-bed addition. The $104,000 price tag was more expensive because of challenges involved in rehabbing the existing building. It is in such poor condition that county Maintenance Director Jay Riley has assigned one of his staff to work fulltime there.

The county went with Option 1: a new building. AG/CM presented its architectural programming report to the Commissioners Court in January.

At the April 25 Commissioners Court meeting, Andrews questioned some of the company’s determinations.

A new jail, large enough to house about 400 inmates, and a new Law Enforcement Center for Sheriff’s Office staff and 911 dispatch is expected to take two to three years to build and will cost around $100 million, based on AG/CM’s estimates.

Andrews said he had assumed that the cost might be $40 million to $50 million and that when the projection came in at twice that amount, there was “sticker shock” among those on the court.

The Lipan resident said that he wanted to “look at individual pieces” of the project.

Discussion of the agenda items included opinions expressed by some in the audience as well as those on the court. 

NO CHEAP FIXES

The matter of how best to deal with the jail problem is complicated and multi-faceted, with no cheap or easy solutions.

Adding to the pressure is that project advisors have told the court that construction costs will rise the longer the project is delayed. According to County Auditor Becky Kidd, the county is currently in good financial shape for moving forward with building a new jail.

If the current jail at 400 Deputy Larry Miller Drive is refurbished rather than razed, it would likely mean having to relocate the 192 inmates who occupy it. As it is, the county is spending more than a half million dollars per year in charges related to housing inmates at other county jails because of overflow. Those jails are now starting to experience overcrowding, too, according to Sheriff Roger Deeds and jail administrator Captain Eric Turbeville.

Although the existing building built cheaply in 1995 has many problems, Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle pointed out that it has a new roof and that 80% of its air conditioning units are new.

The court approved three of Andrews’ proposals but tabled the fourth.

The court voted unanimously to seek quotes/bids for UV protected waterproofing of the concrete block portion of the existing jail’s exterior, including gaining access to the portion of the building that is below grade and replacing soil to prevent moisture penetration into the building.

The court voted 3-2 to explore options and seek quotes/bids to remediate deteriorating pipes in the jail and LEC. Wilson and County Judge Ron Massingill cast the nay votes.

Third on the list was to engage a structural engineer to explore structural deficiencies identified in AG/CM’s Hood County Jail Facility Condition Assessment Report. The court voted unanimously to have AG/CM engage a third-party structural engineer to provide a proposal on structural deficiencies at the jail.

The item that was tabled was to request a programming proposal for a 100-bed jail expansion, a 200-bed jail expansion, an LEC, or request funding options and analysis from Hilltop Securities for a new 430-bed jail/LEC.