DAYTON, Tenn. — Overcrowding at the Rhea County Jail has officials considering the old hospital as a detention facility.
Architect David Brown, hired to prepare a study on whether the county needs a new jail or justice center, said the former Rhea County Medical Center — specifically its nursing home facility — could be converted to a minimum security jail, according to County Commissioner Bill Hollin.
"He said he hadn't seen a better site in Rhea County to put a jail," Hollin said. "I'd like to put on the agenda to talk with him, to go up and look at [the hospital site]."
Some progress toward a decision needs to be made, he said, because officials from the state are coming back to Rhea in January and "if we haven't done anything" the county will face decertification of the jail again.
Decertification could mean the loss of the jail's insurance coverage or an increase in those rates, officials said. It does not affect day-to-day operations.
The jail was decertified in June 2011 because of overcrowding and recertified in April.
Cost estimates for a new jail or justice center range from $9 million to $12 million, and Hollin said converting the medical center would not cost that much.
"I have probably had more people say to me, 'Why don't you go look at the old hospital?' and I don't have a good answer for them," Commissioner Emmaly Fisher said.
Commissioner Grover Parks added, "It ought to be explored."
Commission Chairman Jim Reed questioned the cost of adding staff to the sheriff's department to man a new facility.
Hollin responded that the building is built to secure patients with dementia from wandering away.
"Every door is locked, there are cameras," he said, and it has a sprinkler system.
He said he believes Brown can give the commission the necessary information about staffing as well as construction costs.
"We don't have any money right now to build a jail or justice center," Budget Committee Chairman Ron Masterson pointed out, "but we do need to investigate possibilities. I think we need to look at it."