10/03/07 — $44 million lowest cost for jail plan, study finds

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$44 million lowest cost for jail plan, study finds

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 3, 2007 2:20 PM

Faced with a jail that routinely holds about 50 more prisoners than it was built for, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners listened Tuesday morning to two possible solutions -- either renovate and expand the existing facility or build a new one off-site.

And while neither option is going to be cheap, there is one that, at least from the presentation, is significantly less expensive and appears to have the support of the majority of the board.

The problem with the current jail, which is located in the county courthouse and office building on William Street, is that it is built to hold 200 inmates in its six stories. Currently, though, it averages a daily population of about 250 inmates -- a number that Jim Brennan, president of consulting company Brennan Associates Inc. of Charlotte, said is only going to grow.

Based on recent records, Brennan explained, they are estimating that the Wayne County Jail will require at least 510 beds by the year 2030.

"You're not going to need all this space tomorrow, but whatever you do build, you need to build with that space in mind," he said, adding that in the meantime, those extra beds can be rented out.

The first option he presented was to keep the existing jail.

To do so, however, will require a 256-bed addition, a 58,000-square-foot courthouse annex and the expansion of the sheriff's current office space.

To find the room, the study is proposing that Chestnut Street be closed and an atrium built to connect the existing facility to the new annex, which would be built in the parking lot across the street -- an arrangement that would then require the construction of a 400-car parking garage downtown.

The cost of such a project was estimated to be approximately $52.2 million, with another $3.48 million required every year for the 118 employees needed to operate the 456-bed facility.

The second option presented -- the cheaper and seemingly more popular one -- was to build a new 520-bed jail and renovate the old one for use as a court holding facility and court- and county-related offices.

Arranged in a two-story mezzanine style, the new off-site building would include the jail and the sheriff's office.

Its construction cost, along with the renovations, was estimated to be about $43.93 million -- excluding land acquisition for the necessary 25 to 30 acres. It also would have a yearly operating cost of around $2.64 million for 87 employees.

In addition, the second option's annual debt service over the building's 25-year life span was estimated to be about $3.07 million, while for option one, it was estimated at $3.65 million.

Basically, Brennan explain-ed, the bottom line is that, as presented, option two is about $35.4 million cheaper than option one.

"There's quite a difference between the options in terms of capital costs, and because of the configuration of the existing jail, it's not as staffing efficient or as cost effective to run," he said.

But that didn't stop the commissioners from discussing the pros and cons of both.

While most seemed interested in the cheaper option, they also voiced concerns about taking the jail away from the courthouse.

Primary among those were fuel costs, the cost of maintaining the court holding facility and the jail, the ability of lawyers to meet with their clients and the ability to provide security while transporting prisoners back and forth.

"I like the idea of a separate facility, but I don't like the idea of it being 15 or 20 minutes away from the courthouse," Commissioner Atlas Price said.

Price was on the board when the current jail was built.

"I like the idea of having it close enough to jump in and run from the jail to the courthouse anytime," he said.

Others, though, were more sold on the cost savings, while some were worried about the ability to fit a new jail facility in with Goldsboro's Down-town Development Master Plan.

"Off-site just makes a whole lot more sense," Commission-er Efton Sager said.

Commission Chairman John Bell agreed, noting that most counties have off-site facilities.

Sheriff Carey Winders, on the other hand, was unwilling to commit to one style or the other.

"We need to look at all the options," he said. "I've got concerns staying here and I've got concerns going off-site, too. There's pros and cons to both."

So the next step, county Manager Lee Smith explained, will be for the commissioners to digest the information given to them Tuesday and then communicate any questions or concerns back to him as he and the county staff begin to figure out how best to fold the jail project into the rest of the county's capital needs.

Then, he continued, he hopes to be able to return in November with a recommendation for a long-term county construction program.

"It's going to be an all-inclusive plan. It's going to have all the county's capital needs (schools, jail, Health Depart-ment, Services on Aging and Department of Social Services) over the next 10 years," Smith said.