The conversation on the conditions at the Chambers County Jail continued during last week’s meeting of the Chambers County Commission Rules, Ways and Means Committee. The committee heard a report form the firm retained to study the facility and there wasn’t much good news.
Griff Harris of PH&J Architects Inc., told the committee that the jail has several problems with the plumbing and electrical systems that need to be addressed. Making it more difficult is the fact that any construction would have to be coordinated with the housing of inmates.
The plumbing and sewer pipes serving the jail, Harris said, are especially problematic. He said the best option for the sewer pipes would likely be to install liners in existing lines. Pipes beneath the kitchen need to be replaced and doing that would mean removing the floor, which would effectively shut down the kitchen.
Harris said the jail lighting is inadequate and several electrical wires not in conduit need to be corrected immediately. The fire alarm system and smoke detectors need replacing and outside lighting needs to be modernized.
The basement is also an area of concern. That part of the facility houses many electronics that generate a substantial amount of heat. Harris said that room needs adequate cooling to avoid damaging the electronics.
Jail Administrator Clay Stewart said another problem has arisen with the basement. He said leaks have been detected since PH&J conducted their inspection of the jail.
Despite all these issues, Harris did note that the facility is structurally sound. However, there are also problems with surfaces being improperly coated and metal corrosion. This can be a problem with security.
The main problem facing the commission is funding the jail repairs. PH&J estimated the repairs would cost approximately $2.6 million, and that doesn’t include refinishing corroded surfaces.
The committee discussed several possibilities for the jail. One is to construct dorm-type housing for work release inmates, which could be used to temporarily house inmates while repairs are ongoing. The cost to construct such a dormitory that could house 40- inmates would be approximately $600,000. A dorm housing 80 inmates would cost $1.2 million and would expand the overall jail capacity to 200 inmates.
During any construction, maximum-security prisoners would have to be housed in another jail.
The cost of constructing an entirely new jail would be about $50,000 to $60,000 per inmate, so for a 200-inmate jail, the total cost would be approximately $12 million.
Committee Chair Debbie Wood said that some repairs could be funded by USDA grants. The county meets the requirements to apply for such grants.
The conversation will continue on the future of the jail, and the committee asked the firm to come back with estimates on options available to the county. They requested specifically a cost estimate for demolishing the old jail building and constructing the dorm-like minimum-security facility.