published Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Grundy reviews feasibility studies for new jail

COUNTY JAILS ACROSS REGION

Grundy County will be the last rural county in the region to undertake a major jail project. Here are some of the others:

County ----- Built ----- Expanded/Cost

Bledsoe ----- 2011 ----- $7.4 million

Bradley ----- 2003 ----- $16 million

Grundy ----- 1973 ----- Initial estimate $7-$10 million

Marion ----- 2001 ----- $8 million

McMinn ----- 1992 ----- $5.6 million

Meigs ----- 2001 ----- $760,000 (expansion)

Polk ----- 2007 ----- $8 million

Rhea ----- 2003 ----- $200,000 (expansion, new study under way)

Sequatchie ----- 2006 ----- $8 million

Source: Local county governments and newspaper archives

Grundy County commissioners last week reviewed feasibility studies for a new jail or justice center with price tags ranging from about $7 million to more than $10 million.

But officials still have lots of questions about costs and options.

“It was one of the more open information-gathering conversations we’ve had,” Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said of efforts to replace the county’s 37-year-old jail. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Chattanooga-based TWH Architects gave the study to commissioners last week and will make a formal presentation June 1.

The study resulted in two proposals: a $7 million jail with 95 to 100 beds and sheriff’s offices, or a $10 million justice center with those plus courts, Cleek said.

Officials are looking at sites next to the courthouse and at the former Altamont Shirt Factory, about one block farther east.

Commissioners will have a lot of questions for the architect, Cleek predicted.

Commissioner Michael Brady said he wants an explanation of projections that the county will need 100 inmate beds in 2020. Brady said that figure doesn’t jibe with local trends that he and fellow Commissioner Jeremy Stone crunched from jail census numbers.

The local growth rate appears to be a little more than one inmate per year, Brady said.

“My numbers for 2020 are for 70 beds,” he said. “In 2030, it’s 100 beds based on our data here in the county.”

TWH President Vance Travis said that while projections show the county population won’t grow much over the next 10 to 20 years, the jail’s population will continue to rise because of a poor economy, unemployment and a pronounced methamphetamine problem in parts of the county.

The jail already needs 60 beds, 12 for women, to meet current demand, Travis said.

TWH projects Grundy’s jail will need 95 to 100 beds by 2020. The designs include kitchen, laundry and recreational space for more than 100 prisoners to accommodate later growth, he said.

The TWH study follows a state fire and electrical inspection that revealed numerous safety and design problems, as well as overcrowding, at the current jail. The Grundy County Jail has not been certified by the state since the 1990s, when it was approved to hold 34 inmates, records show.

Kelly Foutch, a local resident who has consistently opposed a new jail, said the county would do better to spend a smaller amount and just update the old jail for a few years.

“What we’re in line for is a renovation or an addition,” Foutch said. The old jail has aged, but a sprinkler system and more capacity could be added for far less than $7 million to $10 million, he said.

“Let’s spend $1 million and look at this thing again in five years,” he said.

The next work session is set for 6 p.m. CDT June 1 at the county courthouse.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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