The controversial jail renovation program now has an architect on the project, though the debate continues over the project.
The project was originally an $18.8 million renovation that was to be funded with jail bonds, but the voter referendum to issue those bonds failed to pass. Now the county plans a two-phase renovation that Chairman Alan Dunstan said is “dramatically scaled back” to the bare necessities of infrastructure and repairs, setting aside plans for any expansion and sticking solely to funds set aside instead of borrowing.
The board voted 26-1 in favor of hiring AAIC Inc. to engineer the project. Each part of the project is still subject to votes by the committees and the full board, Dunstan said.
At a previous building committee hearing, several residents and at least one board member had protested the contract, citing the public’s vote against the jail bonds.
Dunstan said the county is taking the $1.5 million per year they intended to spend paying off the bonds and using it to do a stripped-down renovation that focuses only on electrical, plumbing and other renovations with annual projects, including adding sprinklers to the cellblocks.
“I still maintain it would have been cheaper in the long run to do the whole thing at once,” Dunstan said. “I’m not thrilled about spending money on jails either.”
Daniel Smith, a resident, spoke at the beginning of the meeting in opposition. “The people prevailed against borrowing $18.8 million, but the county won’t take no for an answer,” Smith said. “We realize there are some updates and maintenance needed at the jail, we recognize that, but we still contend this amount is excessive.”
Dunstan pointed out that the vote before the committee and before the County Board was solely to hire AAIC Inc. to conduct architectural and engineering plans for the first phase of the project.
“No one wants to spend this money,” said county administrator Joe Parente. “We are just trying to do what we think is the right thing at the right time.”
At the building committee meeting, committee chairman Art Asadorian pointed out that the county is faced with “huge liabilities” due to the lack of sprinklers in the cellblocks and the ongoing problems with air handling, electrical and plumbing systems.
“All it takes is one problem, and $5 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what we will be paying out,” Asadorian said.
At the committee meeting, members Steve Adler and Mick Madison voted against allowing the contract to proceed to the full board after moving twice to table the contract, though both votes failed and the committee sent the proposal on to the full board.
Madison said while he voted against the contract at the committee level because he felt he did not have enough information to support it, he has since had his questions answered. He said he was happy the project had been scaled back. “The officers working in the jail deserve to work in a decent, safe working environment, so I am happy that the project is ultimately moving forward,” he said.
Adler said the jail would not be as crowded if prisoners were adjudicated through the court system faster. “The problem we have is the adjudication of prisoners - they’re not being processed in a timely manner,” he said. Adler was the sole no vote.
Dunstan said they already have a system in place for emergencies: the Madison County Jail has a capacity of 300, and when it gets above 275, the court officials work together to speed some cases along and get people released quickly when appropriate. However, the crime rate and court system is beyond their control, Dunstan said.
“I’m not in charge of adjudication; that is a judicial issue,” Dunstan said.
AAIC will be paid $733,579 for its engineering work for both phases of the renovations.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.