When I was a kid in elementary school, there was a really annoying song some of the kids would sing called “This Is the Song That Never Ends.”
Well, I have come to believe we have the “Jail That Never Ends.”
When I was running for my seat on the County Commission in 2018, I was told the jail expansion should be finished by June. The project was running behind and the completion date was moved up to August.
I took office in September 2018, and the jail still was not finished. The commission was told at that time to expect the jail to be finished by late October.
Obviously that was not the case. I took a tour of the construction site for the jail due to the repeated delays. I was shocked by what I saw to say the least.
I’m a cop, not a construction manager, but it was obvious to me the project was still nowhere near completion.
Fast forward to the September 2019 meeting of the County Commission, and during our jail progress report we were told to expect the new booking area to be open within a week.
In our October meeting, we were told the new booking area was almost ready and should be open within a week.
During our December 2019 meeting, we were yet again told the new booking area would be ready and open within a week.
In our meeting on Jan. 21, we were yet again told that the new booking area would be ready for use in about a week’s time.
The reason the new booking area is such a milestone on the project is due to the fact the still-in-use old booking area must be demolished to build the kitchen for the expansion. This means there is a significant amount of construction still to go on the kitchen.
Part of it cannot even be started yet. I arrested people over this past weekend, and I can assure you the new booking area is not only still not in use, but it will not be open within a week’s time either!
This jail expansion has been an extremely flawed project from its inception. I’ve detailed many of those flaws in this column previously.
Delays and unexpected setbacks happen with any large construction project. To say the jail expansion has gone off the rails is an understatement.
Our construction manager, Mr. Tom Smith, has never overseen a jail project prior to this one. For the construction manager to miss a one week estimate on the exact same part of the project for six months is ridiculous.
We are now being told the jail should be finished in late April. It will be an absolute miracle if that is the case.
Perhaps, even worse than constantly missing the time targets, we are down to roughly $200,000 unallocated in the current $16.9 million budget for this project.
Mr. Smith has stated he believes he can get the jail finished within the current allocation of funds. I pray for the sake of the taxpayers he is right, but I honestly have my doubts.
If and when this jail expansion is finally finished, what will the taxpayers of Franklin County have actually bought?
We will have a jail with a stated capacity of 282 when our current jail population is averaging in the 230-250 inmate range.
The current bloated, wasteful and inadequate expansion is chocked full of things people wanted to have, not things we had to have (bed spaces).
We will have an observation tower overlooking the inmate areas that is literally large enough to double as a basketball court with an added cost of over $1 million due to that one design change.
If we expand the current jail again, this multimillion dollar observation tower will not be able to be used for that expansion.
We will have administrative offices with private bathrooms. We will even have a car wash bay located on the back side of the jail so patrol cars will no longer be washed in the sally ports like they have been for the past two decades.
We will have an expanded jail that was initially set to cost $9 million but wound up costing $17 million (or more?) by the time it is finished.
The expanded jail will essentially be at capacity when it finally opens.
Perhaps the greatest insult to the taxpayers is we will have to start looking at expanding this newly expanded jail almost immediately.
What we will have when the jail is finally finished is not going to be big enough. This is the “Jail That Never Ends!”
Greg King is the Franklin County District 4, Seat A commissioner and a Decherd police sergeant.