Months after its initial planned completion, the Loudon County jail expansion remains empty.
Officials originally aimed for a January opening. Total cost of the project is $17.5 million, with construction costing $16.25 million.
The jail will now have 264 beds, which includes 193 new male beds and 71 female beds. There is also room for future expansion.
Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis said the COVID-19 pandemic and getting internet service have been the biggest holdups in the project.
“Our phones have been here for a while but the rep came down and showed us how to install them,” Davis said. “We’re actually doing a lot of this stuff ourselves ... and our biggest concerns were in this process, we’ve been responsible for a lot of things we didn’t think we would be.
“... We’ve got people who are police officers figuring out how to it’s — our IT guy, which has police responsibilities, he’s basically been taken from that and all he does he does everything from running cable to running computers to we’ve had a company come in and install Wi-Fi but we’ve had to get registration numbers off of them,” he added. “It’s just been very hectic.”
Inmate phones are expected to be installed this week, he said.
There have also been some structural issues along the way.
“We’ve had some cracks in the floor, some leaks and as the sheriff’s office and the county we’re just not going to take possession of the building for that much taxpayer money and have the floor leaking,” Davis said. “We’re leaking from the bottom and leaking from the top, and we’re on the contractor pretty hard to fix that because the last thing we want is to move everybody in and the construction’s going on and I’ve got wet ceiling tiles and a camera full of water.
“... I think Brian Brown with the maintenance department, he works closely with them trying to come up with some agreements what’s they’re responsibility, what’s our responsibility that wasn’t in the specs of the actual drawings,” he added. “Things that we need or thought that would be in there already we’re having to go back in and fix. We’ve got a leaky sally port. I don’t feel that’s our place to spend additional tax dollars when you spent that much money.”
The process has proven “very frustrating,” but Davis said he didn’t want to downplay the good job contractor Rouse Construction and architectural firm Michael Brady Inc., have played in the project. He said both have done a “fantastic job.”
“We’re going to make sure we’re happy with it,” Davis said. “There’s issues that we thought should have been in the general original plans that are basic and they weren’t.”
Lt. Jake Keener, jail administrator, said he was “eager” to move into the new jail. However, steps must be taken to ensure there are no issues before transporting inmates over.
“According to the contractor and architect, the new portion of the jail is currently ready to house inmates and the contractor is currently awaiting for the sheriff’s office to move the inmates to the new portion so they can gain access to the current inmate areas and complete scheduled renovation for spaces that will continued to be used for jail operations,” Susan Huskey, county purchasing director, said in an email correspondence.
As of Monday afternoon, the jail population was 107. Keener said in January the population hit 190-195.
Loudon County Jail is certified for 91 beds.
Keener has been keeping up with a punch list.
“We’ve got a cell that needs two lights and the store where they need it is shutdown from COVID, so they are unable to buy it,” Keener said. “Whenever we walk through our punch list we check three things off and then find one or two, ‘Oh, we missed this. Now we need this fixed.’ But we’re fine-tuning it now to where we’re into the technical, we’re into our internet system, the door locks and things. It’s not so much the physical plan that we need to tweak.”
Hopes are to have a grand opening for the public to showcase improvements before inmates are transported, but Davis did not know when that would occur. He is positive the building’s completion is near.
“We’re right there at it,” Davis said. “It’s just because they’re supposed to do the phone install, he said, ‘You give me this I’ll have them there in a week.’ So (this) week’s that week. So hopefully they’ll be here (this) week.”
“I think we’re down to weeks and not months,” Keener added.