Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Here we go again - another jail plan for Smith County

From the Tyler Paper:

2 New Plans To Add Beds To Smith Jail On Agenda

Staff Writer

Ending jail overcrowding in Smith County by renovating and constructing jail space will be discussed by architects and members of the Commissioners Court during a meeting tentatively scheduled for this month, County Judge Joel Baker said.

Baker discussed options and an expected meeting with commissioners Jeff Warr and Terry Phillips during Monday's Commissioners Court meeting. Commissioners Bill McGinnis and JoAnn Hampton were not present because of scheduled leave. Baker said the group will discuss two possibilities for adding between 147 and 294 additional beds to the existing central jail facility for $15 million to $22 million. Building up and adding one or two floors are viable options, Baker explained to the court.
He said adding one floor would allow for 147 extra beds at a cost of around $15 million while adding two new levels would cost around $22 million for 294 additional beds.

Architect Curt Parde, of HDR Inc., said he and his staff have evaluated the drawings for the central jail facility and that "the structure as it was designed is more than adequate" for two additional floors. County officials toured the site with Parde in December to discuss possible additions and changes to maximize the number of beds and usable space.

Parde said the scope of the preliminary project includes applying the jail's current design elements to any additions to maximize prison beds in a "confined space." The project would also call for building a new kitchen/laundry space on the Low/Medium Risk site, freeing up the lower level for renovation. The lower level would be used as clinic and infirmary space and a new exterior sally-port and use the existing sally-port area to expand the inmate booking area.

"Those are the major components," he said.

The central jail can house up to 276 prisoners on the second and third levels in a combination of single cells, multi-occupancy cells and dormitories. The ground level of the jail serves as its primary support space.

Warr said "all options," even privatization, are "on the table."

"We are looking for every option available," Warr said. "Building costs are down and it could be a good time for us to take care of this problem that has been within the county for going on a decade."

He said he was pleased the initial idea would add needed beds and facilities and utilize the existing structure and tunnel at lower cost than proposed in prison bond packages previously rejected by voters.

Phillips said the plan sounded like a positive step toward addressing the county's needs and reducing the financial burden on taxpayers. But, he said, he couldn't give a definitive statement on the possibility of adding floors because Monday's meeting was the first he had heard about the plan and more details are needed.

He said the proposal would bring shipped prisoners back to the county, along with the money it costs to ship, house and care for out-of-county inmates. Phillips suggested after the previous defeats of jail bonds this would probably be an acceptable alternative for voters, but that if the numbers showed there would be no increase to the tax rate, he would be willing to consider certificates of obligation to fund the project.

"If we can cover it and build it without changing the tax rate, I don't mind not going to voters. But if it does, I think we should," Phillips said.

Baker said when Parde confirmed the structure could support additional floors and saw the preliminary price tag, he believed it to be the best option for the county. He said, even after the previous failed bonds, he believes the decision should go before voters.

"I want voter approval, especially based on the history of this project," he said.

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