04/17/14 — Wayne County commissioners discuss new jail

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Wayne County commissioners discuss new jail

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 17, 2014 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners devoted half of their eight-hour meeting Tuesday to listening to and quizzing companies vying for the job of renovating the former Wayne Correctional Center for use as a county jail.

Commissioners were anxious to find out how long it would take to complete the project feasibility study. They were told about three months.

They also were eager to find out how quickly enough work could be done to create 48 jail cells -- the number needed to house the overflow jail population that this year alone will cost the county $900,000 to house in other counties.

They were told that even a smaller project like that would be still more than a year away.

But the real rub is that little can be done, including determining costs and required renovations and construction, until the county actually assumes ownership of the prison that was shuttered by state budget cuts last October.

Commissioners, Sheriff Larry Pierce, Sheriff's Office Maj. Fane Greenfield, who oversees the jail, other county officials, and representatives of the architectural firms toured the property earlier this month in hopes of getting a clearer picture of what renovations will be needed, and the costs involved.

Commissioners have asked the state to convey the property to the county, a request that has the support of the county's legislative delegation -- particularly Rep. Jimmy Dixon. Dixon has said that Division of Adult Correction Commissioner David Guise told him that there is not another state use for the property, and that he was going to put it on the fast track to be conveyed to the county.

The board also is asking that the county be exempted from having to bring the old prison up to state jail standards -- at least initially.

Dixon also supports the exemption, at least at the start.

The 2013-14 state budget that closed the prisons provides that a county can lease a closed state prison and to be exempt from compliance with minimum jail standards. The exemption would apply for as long as the lease is in effect.

However, Commissioner John Bell, chairman of the board's Detention Center Advisory Committee, said the county should avoid a lease.

"We can put a lot of work into it, and then in two or three years they come back and take the whole thing," he said. "So I don't think that we want to do the lease thing."

The feasibility study on that project, and the existing jail, has been on hold since December as the county waits on a decision from the state.

Commissioners have said that renovating the prison is a cheaper option than building a new $60 million-$70 million jail.

The architects will look at the funding of renovation versus new construction, Interim County Manager George Wood said.

The county started out with four groups to interview. But the Brennan Group, the company responsible for recent renovations at the jail, withdrew. Wood said the company had just landed a large project, and company officials were concerned they would not be able to do both and withdrew from consideration.

The firms making presentations Tuesday were Ware Bonsall Architects and Adwarchitects, both of Charlotte, MHAWorks of Greenville, DLR Group of Orlando, Fla. and Mosley Architects of Charlotte.

Company officials talked about their staffs, qualifications and the size and type of projects they have been involved in.

No action was taken after the presentation. However, Wood told commissioners they would meet in closed session to discuss which firm to hire since the process involves contract negotiations.

The vote to hire would have to be made in open session, he noted.

When the request for qualifications first went out in November, the idea had been for a study on the prison and the possibility of new construction.

However, the county is now looking at a second feasibility study that would be done prior to that, Wood said.

"That is trying to see what we can do as quickly as possible to alleviate this overcrowding now. As you all know that is about an $800,000 problem for us annually, and it is growing," he said.

"What is kind of formulating is that we would do an initial study of what can we do initially, particularly with the old prison part and come in with temporary cells that may or may not end up being a permanent part of the jail. The second would be what we originally started out with which would be is what do we do long term?"

Bell said he wants to ensure that the county does not put the public, or the officers who work at the jail, at risk by rushing into something that doesn't work.

Bell, who works in probation and parole, has disagreed with his fellow commissioners' desire to have the jail exempted from state jail standards.

Jails and prison are not the same and the county cannot move into the prison as it is, Bell said.

"The sheriff's department is adamant about having it fixed right, whatever we do," Bell said. "I think that is enough said until we get an architect to come in, get a good look at it and set a price."

Wood told commissioners that once they select an architect, the county would negotiate the contract and fees.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery asked if the county would wait until the prison had been transferred, or if it would proceed.

"I think you can go ahead and select the architect, and authorize us to negotiate the contract with them in the interest of saving time," Wood said. "But your point is well made. We cannot sign a contract for any architectural services until you own the prison property.

"You do all the legwork, and that way we save time. We will explain that to the architects that this is all contingent on us receiving approval from the state of North Carolina."

Chairman Wayne Aycock said he wanted to ensure that Pierce and Greenfield are heavily involved in the process. Wood agreed.