Loudon's lower-cost jail project plan getting pricier
LOUDON — The estimated cost of addressing overcrowding in the Loudon County jail continues to rise as the estimated budget for the project climbs past the $10 million predicted several months ago.
The Loudon County Commission Budget Committee and Capital Projects committee Monday approved up to $60,000 for plans for the renovation and expansion of the justice center.
About a year ago plans for building a new jail — at a cost of $24 million to over $40 million — were rejected by a general consensus as being way out of line with the county budget.
Since that time, the Jail Study Committee has suggested that a renovation addressing key issues would run about $10 million.
Estimates for the project are now reaching the $12 million to $16 million range with architects Michael Brady Inc. offering two options. For $12 million the county could get a new 208-bed men's housing unit with new booking and vehicle sally port, and more court parking spaces.
A second option, for an additional $4 million, includes additional renovations to the existing jail for women and special needs housing. It would also include an expanded kitchen and laundry space.
The county has been warned that it may lose state certification for the jail if it doesn't relieve overcrowding. The jail is certified to hold 91 prisoners but frequently holds well over 100. Sheriff Tim Guider has also complained that design limitations of the old jail building create safety issues for his staff.
County Commissioner Van Shaver said he was concerned about spending up to an additional $60,000 on top of the approximately $40,000 already invested in other studies related to the plans and the site before commission had voted on the overall budget. "What if this plan gets to commission and nobody wants to support it?" he asked.
Shaver said he'd rather clear the jails by reducing sentences of nondangerous inmates before he would vote to increase taxes to pay for the project. "Before we go further I'd like to have a discussion with the whole commission to discuss how much of a tax increase they might support," he said.
Other commissioners are also expressing their concerns. Earlena Maples said she understands that the jail must be brought up to state specifications for the safety of staff and inmates, but said she is conflicted about voting for a tax increase. "I'd vote for about this much" she said, holding up her hand and making a "0" with her thumb and forefinger.
Mayor Buddy Bradshaw, who serves on the jail committee, said he wasn't thrilled about spending more money on plans before commission had agreed to fund the project.
He said the money invested in planning on the front end could help the commission focus on what is necessary and ultimately reduce costs. Getting the commission more involved in the specifics of the project might help reduce the reluctance of some commissioners to raise taxes, he said.
Commissioner Henry Cullen, another member of the Jail Study Committee, said it is important that commissioners focus on specific problems such as safety and overcrowding and not be distracted by additional proposals that might raise the costs. "We want to fix the problems and have some space left over for future expansion," he said.