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Jail addition plan altered for efficiency, safety

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6:03 am

Following a scrutinizing look at the cost and benefits of an alternative plan to the proposed jail addition last Monday evening, Lincoln County Corrections Partnership officials voted to move forward with “Plan B” for the jail addition with an estimated cost of  $6.7 million.

 Sheriff Murray Blackwelder and Chris Thornton, jail administrator, initially developed the plan, a modification of the architect’s design, as a more functional, efficient and safer alternative to the original plan presented.

In August, the Lincoln County Commission approved a study not to exceed $10,000 which would examine potential construction and operating costs of the alternate plan.

“I think it’s going to be a less expensive answer …and more efficient to save taxpayers money,” Blackwelder said following the LCCP meeting Monday evening.

     The original medium sized jail plan, Plan A, presented by Grant Thorp of Cope Architects, was approved in March.  The cost of that plan was estimated at $6,672,790. 

While at first glance Plan B appears more expensive, it offers greater efficiency, requires fewer employees to operate and potentially could generate more revenue by providing more beds for state inmates, the sheriff said.

 The committee figured that Plan B will cost approximately $51,000 more than  Plan A, but the architectural fees were figured into Plan B and not Plan A. 

“Building for building, we’re looking at $18,000 difference,” said Blackwelder.

The upgrade to Plan B would not increase the cost of renovations to the existing jail – that cost stays the same on either plan.

    Plan B is more condensed and would eliminate the necessity of a second control tower which will save an estimated $100,000 in construction costs and will offer greater visibility of inmates than Plan A, the sheriff said. The projected staffing savings are roughly $120,000 since a second control tower would not need staffing.

Plan A would have required cutting into more rock than Plan B, which could escalate the cost.

“Going through the hill will be expensive,” said Blackwelder.

Another benefit to Plan B, officials stated, is that it offers a better flow and greater security.  The first plan was approximately 480-feet longer, so in the event of a disturbance, corrections officers would have a greater distance to go to reach the inmates, Blackwelder said.  It would also require more “roving” employees to check cells.

Plan B would include 14 additional inmate beds, according to the sheriff.  Housing extra state inmates will generate more funds from the state, amounting to about $189,000 per year. The state pays $37 per bed for state inmates, but it does not pay anything for county inmates.

Although housing state inmates will not generate a profit for the jail, it does help offset the cost of operation and maintenance, according to Blackwelder.  It costs the jail $54 per day to house a prisoner. Funds collected from the state go into the county’s general fund.

Following a lengthy discussion about the additional expense, some officials were reluctant to spend additional funds.  Lance Howell, Deputy Director of Tennessee Corrections Institute, said, “You’ve been meeting for several years — it’s going to come down to you have to make a decision … If you have a viable plan, you won’t get decertified, but if you don’t have a plan, you may.”

“I don’t want to see us in a worse situation,” said Steve Guntherberg, a member of the committee.

“I’m ready to go to Plan B — I see several savings,” said Tommy Stevenson, making a motion to approve Plan B. Seconding the motion was Guntherberg.

 “I believe Plan B is more efficient than Plan A,” said Howell.

Jim Hart with County Municipal Technical Services (CTAS) concurred. Hart said Plan B seems to provide better security, and it’s more condensed.

“I think it has potential to be a more efficient operation,” Hart said.

Future expansion could be at the east or southeast sides of the building.

“Plan B uses more common sense, and the efficiency of it should save money,” Blackwelder stated, but later noted, “I think it’s a shame we’re not building a justice center that would eliminate having such security at the courthouse. It would eliminate transporting inmates in the public … it endangers the public.”

The plan was approved by  the Lincoln County Budget Committee last Tuesday and will go before the full County Commission for a vote.