LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- About two dozen Hays State Prison inmates put in four 10-hour days each week renovating and expanding the LaFayette-Walker County Public Library.
The inmate workers don't get pay. Most days, they eat prison food.
"Bologna sandwich, chips, some kind of fruit," said Chip Bateman, the Georgia Department of Corrections construction supervisor in charge of the job site.
Still, it beats being inside, Bateman said.
"Gives 'em a little ... taste of freedom," he said, "It gives them a chance to hone their skills, keep sharp at what they do."
On Wednesday morning, inmates and officials in the prison labor program got some attention and praise from state Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, who is chairman of the State Institutions and Property Committee that oversees the Department of Corrections.
"It's impressive to see what you can do when you get everybody working together," Neal said. "This is just the ultimate example of teamwork."
Using inmate labor should save the library $250,000 to $300,000, project architect Jack Killian said.
"They've done an outstanding job. They're very capable," he said.
The inmate laborers are skilled tradesmen convicted of nonviolent offenses, Bateman said. They can get certification from the prison system that helps them find work once they're released.
"They're as good as anyone I've worked with in the free world," he said. "Most of these guys, I'd hire them in a second."
The Friends of the LaFayette-Walker County Library shows its appreciation by providing the inmate laborers a special lunch each Thursday.
The $4 million library project should be finished by July 2013, Killian said. Work includes reroofing and renovating the 12,000-square-foot library building at 305 S. Duke St. An 8,000-square-foot addition will provide more space for such uses as library administration.
Other changes include relocating the entrance to the east side of the library near 60 new parking spaces. There wasn't enough parking on South Duke Street, Killian said.
State funding covers half the library's cost, LaFayette pledged $500,000 of its special purpose local option sales tax money and Walker County put up about $1.4 million in SPLOST and in-kind labor, such as grading the new parking lot.
"It's going to be great for the city," said City Councilman Chris Davis, who was among those touring the work site Wednesday.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.