Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Sep 30, 2011 - Franklin County corrections officer Quitman Spaulding observes inmates from the tower inside the Franklin County Jail. The jail opened just over a decade ago and is overcrowded.

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Franklin County Jail funding approved

Franklin County, Tenn., officials recently approved an almost $8 million bond issue to fund a long-awaited expansion of the county's jail, but the cost estimate over the last year increased by more than $5 million.

County Mayor Richard Stewart on Tuesday said the increase came after a fire marshal said the number of beds should be boosted and officials determined other security- and operations-related items should be updated along with the increased size of the facility.

County commissioners earlier this month expressed some shock at the jump from a preliminary cost estimate in 2016 of around $8 million to $14.62 million, Stewart said. He said commissioners' shock was largely a result of a lack of communications among all parties on what kind of security and facilities upgrades had been included since last year.

After detailing expansion needs since last year, "they needed to add quite a bit, and they took the plans to the fire marshal and he said there's not enough beds," Stewart said.

Then officials determined the jail and the Judicial Center's security door systems needed to match. The additional beds also required larger capacity in the kitchen and laundry, and other needed updates were made part of the current project so shortcomings don't arise too soon, he said.

The delay in nailing down the final details on the project allowed the county time to pay off the bond note for the now-overcrowded 1997-era jail. That debt was paid off in March 2016, officials said.

The firm on the project, Tullahoma-based Oliver-Little-Gipson Engineering Inc., recently provided county commissioners an explanation for the $5.6 million increase in the cost estimate. Most of the increase was attributed to increasing the number of beds from 258 to 282, several security upgrades to make existing facility features match new construction, new kitchen equipment and other security-related upgrades not included in last year's cost figures.

Franklin County already has $9.6 million on hand for the project, and the recently approved bond issue amount of $7.95 million will cover the 2017 debt difference for the jail of $4.8 million. The rest of the bond will go toward needs for highway department equipment, solid waste department equipment and countywide communications upgrades that will bring improvements to the Sherwood community, where 911 service and cellular phone service have previously been all but nonexistent, Franklin County Finance Director Andrea Smith said.

Smith and Stewart point out that, despite the cost increase, property taxes are in no danger of being increased. And combining the jail project with the three other projects under one bond saves taxpayers about $100,000, they said.

Smith said the county probably would advertise the bond in January when competition among bond issuers is higher.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at

By the numbers

According to an explanation of increased costs from Oliver-Little-Gipson Engineering Inc., Franklin County’s jail expansion project rose for the following reasons:

 $550,000: 24 additional beds added to original expansion project

 $300,000: Jail and Justice Center door upgrades

 $350,000: Expanded booking area

 $982,500: Control room redesign to allow increased sight lines for guards and decrease visibility to inmates

 $50,000: Corridor security measures

 $75,000: Additional isolation rooms

 $350,000: New security electronics room to allow better access and room for future growth

 $90,000: Renovation of existing housing doors to match new construction

 $275,000: Additional separate classroom, offices and toilet with a dedicated entry for inmate training area

 $500,000: All new kitchen equipment

 $975,389: Jail security upgrades to make existing door and new doors, security electronics, video and access controls to match new construction

› $271,505: Additional architectural and engineering fee

 $880,000: For increased costs of materials and labor

› $5.65 million: Total difference from original estimate, including architectural and engineering increase

 $4.8 million: Additional debt requested reflecting savings the county experienced in bond refunding in June

Source: Oliver-Little-Gipson Engineering Inc.