WILMINGTON — A county jail construction study reviewed by Robeson County commissioners Friday shows that a new jail to address problems of overcrowding and provide for future growth would cost about $41 million.
The study also shows that a significantly less expensive jail could be put on the property of the recently closed state minimum security prison on N.C. 711 in Lumberton, but the cost and effectiveness of that strategy would depend on whether the county opts to purchase the property or lease it from the state.
The study, by Balfour Beatty Construction, Moseley Architects and Metcon, says that a state law passed during the recent long session of the state General Assembly allows a county to lease a state prison and not have to comply with North Carolina Rules for Jails. If the county purchases the N.C. 711 property, the jail would have to meet current state jail standards.
According to the study, if the county leases the the property the state Jail Inspection Unit will not conduct twice per year inspections anymore, resulting in the county being subjected to potential liability. A state jail without inspection that results in minimum upgrades could be done for about $2.9 million, said Sam Isham, executive vice president of Metcon. A state jail with inspections could be a code-compliant facility for about $11.4 million.
The current existing facilities on the 102-acre former prison property do not meet the latest standards for both life safety and construction requirements for jail facilities in the state, the study reads. The older buildings on the site are more out of standard than are two 20-year-old dorm buildings that were constructed in the 1990s.
“Not having state inspectors regularly inspect your facility in our opinion exposes the county to excessive risk exposure,” the study report says. It also says that the three most viable buildings for continued use are the two newest dormitory buildings and the front administrative building. Repairs would have to be made to the aging HVAC and roof systems, with each dorm appearing to be able to house 40 inmates each, according to the report.
The report says that each of the renovated dorm units would be “much more staff-inefficient to operate” in comparison to the new facility design. It also says that transportation costs of moving inmates, as well as providing services such as meals and medical care, would be high.
Todd Davis, a former jail administrator now with Moseley Architects, told the commissioners that the design of the former prison is highly “unsecure.”
“You would actually be decreasing the safety of officers and inmates by moving out of the present county jail,” he said.
The report also states that there would be “many unknown additional maintenance costs” to keeping even unused buildings in useful condition. “The sewer and water utilities are very old and may require major overhaul,” the report reads.
Dan Mace, with Moseley Architects, told the commissioners that it would have to be their decision whether or not the use of the prison facility would be worth it when cost is compared with benefits gained.
“We want to look at every option,” Commissioner Tom Taylor said. “Our citizens want to get the most for their money.”
Mace said that the proposed 564-bed facility, which would include space for all of the “core” needs of the jail, such as medical facilities, storage areas, kitchen and intake rooms, would provide for growth.
“We want to plan for future expansion,” Mace said. “We don’t want the jail to be shut down, or you facing the same conditions you have now in just a short time.”
The new jail would be designed to provide for inmates spending almost all of their time in the same housing unit, according to Mace. He said the design would also address security concerns about the need for “clear sight lines” into all areas of the facility.
The jail construction study was presented to commissioners on the last day of their three-day retreat held in Wilmington. The annual event was held this year at the Homewoods Suites in the Mayfaire development.