Panel OKs new jail plan

John Eisenlau, with Treanor Architects, goes over design plans for a new option presented Wednesday at the Loudon County Corrections Partnership Committee meeting.

After considering an option to expand the current Loudon County Justice Center site and break the project into phases to help lower costs, the Corrections Partnership Committee ultimately plans to recommend a move to the Centre 75 Business Park for the jail, Loudon County Sheriff’s Office and courtroom facilities.

Sheriff Tim Guider motioned to approve the recommendation, which was followed by a second from General Sessions Court and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles. The committee unanimously approved the plan to utilize the new site.

“I just think it’s the prudent thing, the right thing to do as far as where the future will take us and make it easier on the next generation, make it more efficient and, again, that’s where we always just seem to end up so I felt like someone needed to make a motion,” Guider said.

Earlier this year, committee members began thinking about the Centre 75 property as a potential location for the new jail instead of expanding the existing Justice Center. Loudon City Council members who attended a committee meeting in April gave their blessing to the standalone location.

Members have considered a facility complex similar to one in Monroe County, which cost about $31 million.

“Yeah, it’s a big pill to swallow, I’m well aware of that,” Guider said. “And I don’t know the amount of pennies that (Loudon County Finance Director) Tracy Blair — she seems to think in certain ways in phases that it’s not going to be such a huge burden as all of us may think, but that’s yet to be seen. ... I feel like we need a jail that we can work in and where employees can be safer. That’s my concern.”

In previous meetings, the jail panel considered multiple options for either renovating the current Justice Center or constructing a standalone facility.

During the most recent meeting, committee members reviewed a new plan presented by Michael Brady Inc. and Treanor Architects for a 275-bed jail that would have cost an estimated $25 million, and the project would have been divided into phases over a number of years. According to estimates from Michael Brady Inc., phase one would cost about $17.9 million and take three years to complete. Included in the cost is the relocation of the rescue squad.

Phase two, estimated at $7.7 million, would include construction of an additional courtroom, and if needed, a phase three option was available for county officials to add two extra courtrooms for about $3.9 million.

Loudon County Finance Director Tracy Blair estimated the proposed first phase of that option could be done with a property tax increase as low as 2-3 pennies or as high as 8-9 pennies, depending on how the debt was structured. For about $25 million, the project could be done for a low of 5-6 pennies up to 10-12 pennies.

In a previous interview, Commissioner Van Shaver said the county might have to consider a 15- to 20-cent tax increase to cover a jail project costing $31 million.

“It would have been nice to have — I mean, it wasn’t like they should have been there, but it would have been nice for some of the other commissioners to have been in there and heard the information that was shared yesterday, even by the (Tennessee Corrections Institute) assistant director, some of the things he said,” Guider said. “I think it’s important that the commissioners know everything, know exactly what we’re up against and what the ramifications could be.”

Guider said the new option was structured as a “piecemeal” approach for the county, and moving forward with a new facility could potentially improve efficiency and lessen the amount of staff needed. Expanding the current facility could increase recurring expenditures by $500,000 for more officers, he said.

Loudon County Jail was decertified earlier this month.

“You need to do something with that facility, and, once again, I’ve heard talks about courts and offices and all these types of things,” TCI Deputy Director William Wall said during the meeting. “That’s out of our purview. You’re decertified for the jail and the jail alone. ... You don’t want to spend money, I get that, but pay me now or pay me later. That’s kind of what’s going to end up happening.”

Loudon County will not be up for inspection until next year’s cycle, he said. Officials can petition for re-inspection before then.

Wall said he was concerned with the lack of classification for inmates.

“Here’s my biggest concern, that you have inmates in the same housing areas as other inmates, predators and prey possibly together, that if anything happens, you knew they shouldn’t be together, you try to classify them the best you could. However you’ve made no movement to correct the overcrowding in the jail,” Wall said. “Therefore, when someone is considered prey and a predator gets a hold of them ... big problem, big money if you’re held to be liable for that action.”

Officials with LCSO and the Ninth Judicial District Attorney General’s office presented plans to the full commission last month. Commissioners instructed the jail committee to come back with a single recommendation for the county’s approval.

County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said he believes commission will discuss the jail either in August or September.

“I think we’re still a little bit away from getting everything hammered out to where we’re ready to put out a presentation,” Bradshaw said.

Although jail committee members spoke extensively about numerous options that have been on the table in recent weeks and months, they considered few details about the $31 million Centre 75 project before passing along the recommendation to Loudon County Commission.

“We were at a point yesterday where even if we added onto the building, I think you would agree, with the phases it was still going to be $25 million-plus to stay where we are, from what I was figuring,” Guider said. “So, why not go to a new location to where you will have even for a generation or two to come after that you’ll have space?

“Right now, if we add on again that’s it,” Guider added. “I mean, and it’s just as we say, you Band-Aid something and the Band-Aid is — that’s just what it is, a Band-Aid. It’s not going to heal. It’s just a temporary fix it seems like. I’m not wanting anything more than what’s needed.”