05/02/12 — Commissioners get close look at jail woes

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Commissioners get close look at jail woes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 2, 2012 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders points to one of the many leaks and missing tiles in the county jail. Commissioners took a tour of the facility Tuesday to get an idea of what work needs to be done to get the building up to code.

Some of the ceiling tiles in the Wayne County Jail have been damaged by leaks so many times that they are no longer being replaced, leaving gaps in the ceiling.

"No telling how many times they have been replaced," Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said. "It doesn't do any good to replace them. They just fall down.

"These are trash cans. They aren't trash cans -- they are leak cans for the water. They are 50 gallon."

The leaks throughout the building, including offices, are creating health concerns and have even destroyed files, Winders said. Tarps used to protect computers during the worst leaks are stored in a nearby conference room.

Rusting pipes embedded in the walls make for difficult repairs and allow water, some from toilets, to run down the walls, he said. Another issue is heating and air conditioning ductwork that has to be removed to get to the plumbing.

Those are just a few of the problems that Winders pointed out to Wayne County commissioners during a Tuesday morning tour of the facility.

The tour comes just a month after Winders took commissioners to task for taking so long to address the problems that have beset the jail since it was built 20 years ago.

At that same meeting last month, the board voted 5-2 to appropriate $47,823 for an engineering study of problems at the jail. Commissioners Steve Keen and Ray Mayo didn't question the need, but did question the money and voted against hiring the engineer.

"This building is 20 years old and you have used it 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Commissioner Jack Best said. "It is wore out. Things wear out and you don't have to come up there anymore and preach to us. We are going to fix it."

The county has hired Brennan and Associates of Columbia, S.C., to conduct a full review of the jail and all operations and all mechanicals including water and sewer, roofing and security.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he and Winders will meet with the engineers in the next few weeks.

"Then, once they give us a plan, it is a matter of putting the bids together and putting it out to bid," Smith said. "Some of them will be quick. It is going to be a matter of safety and code first and then from there.

"There will be budget amendments because right now I couldn't tell you how much it will cost. None of us know. We just have to get in here and fix it."

In the past, the county might have hired contractors who were good at building shopping centers and bridges, but what is needed now is someone who knows jails and what needs to be done, Winders said.

That is why it was important for the county to hire an engineer to look at the jail and make recommendations, he said.

"We have serious issues here to be done and only a person who has built jails knows what needs to be done," he said. "You will see today some of the issues in here. Some may want to say that preventative maintenance wasn't done.

"Some of the things, the way they were built back in the day, probably won't built like it should have been."

For example, the jail inspector recently brought an unexpected issue to the county's attention even though it had never been mentioned in previous inspections, Winders said.

"Now, they are coming back, 'Oh, you will fix it,'" Winders said. "It has to be done. There is no way around it. That is going to cost some more money. We don't have a choice."

During the inspection, the county was told that the walk-in coolers and freezers are required to have sprinkler systems.

"It has been that way (no sprinklers), but nobody knew it," he said. "Nothing was said when it was built either. You have to keep in mind when you put in the sprinkler, it has to be a special deal."

Sprinklers are normally charged with water, but in a freezer, the water would freeze and burst the pipes, he said.

Winders said he just didn't want to see anyone pointing fingers.

"It is nobody's fault," he said. "Some things could have been better-developed from the very beginning."

When a house is built, the security is to keep people from trying to get in, Winders told commissioners. A jail is built to stop people from trying to get out, he said.

"I believe an engineer can successfully make this place better," he said. "It is going to be a major undertaking because you are going to have to shut down parts of the building while you are doing it.

"Certainly you can't leave saws, hammers and nails up here. It has to be done sections at the time and that is where the cost factor comes in. You are going to have to ship some people out. It is going to be a logistical nightmare."

In response to questioning by commission Chairman John Bell, Winders said that judges and the Day Reporting Center are working well to keep the jail population down.

"We are overcrowded some, but not to the point that it is terrible," Winders said. "Certainly if we work with legislators and they do something with the square footage (required for each inmate) and increase the capacity of inmates for showers and toilets that would make a big difference.

"It would double the amount of beds in this jail if they (legislators) would go along."

Legislators have been asked to do that, Smith said. However, during the legislative short session, about the best that can be hoped for is forming a committee to study the issue before the long session, he said.

"If we went to a larger number of inmates, all of these issues that we have would have to be fixed," Smith said. "Supporting the numbers we have now is tough."

Winders said he has spoken with Smith about people who say the county is pushing for a new jail.

"I am not pushing for a new jail to be built at this point in time," Winders said. "You just tell people that keep in the back of your mind that at some point later you are going to have to have something, an alternative."