11/26/07 — Duplin will take a look a building needs and costs for next budget

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Duplin will take a look a building needs and costs for next budget

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 26, 2007 1:45 PM

With a jail bursting at the seams, the school system's central administration split between two offices and a soon-to-be vacant county-owned building, county Manager Mike Aldridge is hoping to be able to take care of all three problems in one fell swoop -- although it might take some time, he said.

Currently the jail, which was built for about 90 prisoners, is holding more than 130.

The fear, Sheriff Blake Wallace explained, is that eventually the state Department of Corrections could decide to close it down.

"There's always the possibility the state could come in tomorrow, say the facility is inadequate and shut us down," he said. "We've been dealing with some form of overcrowding since I became sheriff five years ago, so I'm worried about the state inspector's patience."

Among the potential solutions being discussed, Aldridge said, are increasing the use of ankle bracelets and home arrests, the installation of modular units or possibly conventional renovations.

Right now, he continued, the county simply cannot afford to build a new facility.

"We're trying to get the numbers on modular units in comparison with conventional renovation," he said. "But this would just be an add-on (to the current jail). This would just satisfy the current needs. It would not serve as any sort of expansion."

But the avenue they eventually decide to take may depend -- at least in part -- on the county Board of Education.

Currently the school system's central offices are split between two buildings on N.C. 11/903 in Kenansville, right beside the sheriff's office.

If everything goes according to plan, Aldridge explained, the school system should be able to move out of those and into the old mental health building across from Duplin General Hospital on Beasley Street.

That would then allow the sheriff some extra office space, extra parking and additional land on which to place a pre-fabricated building or two -- without having to go too far off-site.

"That's what we're projecting at this point," Aldridge said. "When you start getting into remote locations, it starts getting expensive. I think the sheriff would prefer to have everything in one location. If we were to build a whole new jail, we might look at somewhere else, but the funds just are not there right now."

The modular facilities would likely hold weekend and non-violent offenders -- a model used before in Duplin County prior the jail expansion in the early 1990s.

But first, the board of education has to agree to move.

And the early indication from school Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby, Aldridge said, is that they may be willing.

Eastpointe, the local mental health agency, is expected to move out of its current building shortly after the beginning of the year when its lease runs out.

"I think the board of education would like to consolidate its offices under one roof," Aldridge said. "But we've got to determine what kind of shape that space is in and if it'll work for their needs."

But, he added, it's not something that's likely to happen in the next couple of months.

"We're just kind of floating this out there. It's going to be a while before we get started on any of it," he said. "Right now we've got too many other pressing needs for it to be a high priority."