Loudon County Sheriff’s Office jailers moved inmates into the new addition Monday, nearly eight months after the project was scheduled to be complete.
Officials broke ground on the addition in May 2018 with contractor Rouse Construction.
Total expenses for the project were $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. The facility formerly was certified for 91 beds.
Loudon County Jail housed 132 inmates Tuesday morning.
“To finally get to where we’re supposed to be and having a facility that will accommodate all of our inmates I think the biggest thing and the biggest quest we had to do this jail is for safety,” Jimmy Davis, LCSO chief deputy, said. “Safety for the officers, safety for the inmates. I mean we’ll be able to properly classify the inmates so you don’t have a mixture of different types of charges, whether they’re violent or nonviolent. Shouldn’t be in there with a simple misdemeanor sitting next to someone that has killed someone and they’re homicide; that’s just not what we’re trying to do.
“It’s not looked upon favorably through (Tennessee Corrections Institute), and we also obviously want to follow all guidance and advice from TCI,” he added.
Davis said part of the blame for construction delays can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some items “just weren’t completed.”
“Some of the things, like I said, they blamed COVID for a lot of things but COVID didn’t hit until March,” Davis said. “I think they just missed the mark on some of the things they were going to be implementing and putting in to the new facility up to just a few weeks ago. We’re still having issues with some of the IT things where there’s a lot more technology gone into it where we’re using touch screens to open doors and things of that nature where that’s a safety issue. If you push a button to turn on a light and it pops a door, that’s something that we can’t do and we want to make sure all those kinks are worked out.”
Despite the issues, LCSO Lt. Jake Keener, jail administrator, said the facility is “ready to go.”
“We’ll have to move the inmates through what’s our existing female block,” Keener said. “So, of course, they’ll be the first moved and then we’ll move the male inmates as we started filling up the other cell blocks according to classification, which we can certainly classify way better than we did before.”
Keener said deputies and inmates are “excited” for the expansion.
“We’ll have to put our best people in different areas,” Keener said. “I have some officers that are really good with our computers and they may have to work that post a little longer, but we’ll make some mistakes. We’re not 100 percent sure on the new procedures. We’ll have to trial and error some things to see how it’s going to go.”
Plans to have a grand opening for the public to see the addition were halted because of COVID-19. A virtual tour by Keener and Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider can be found on YouTube at “Loudon County Tennessee Jail Tour 2020.”
“That’s the best we could do,” Davis said. “We just wanted to show the community what the taxpayer spent for, what an improvement it will be, how much safer it will be for the officers and inmates that we are charged with protecting. So that’s the best thing we could do. We’re wanting to obviously have all this transparency and show people what they’re paying for. We do it with our Citizens Academy and we thought it’d be a good idea to do tours, but unfortunately with COVID regulations we just didn’t see how we could do that safely and get a good return out of it, so the sheriff just opted to make the video just to kind of give a good idea and show people what we’ve got.”
There is room for future expansion, Guider said.
“You got room and the infrastructure’s there for a new pod just identical to the one that we built,” Guider said. “So it’s exciting about that. That would add another 205 beds.”
The focus can now shift to renovating the old portion of the building, which Davis said could take 60 days.
“Now whether they still hold to that because of COVID and all that, but you know we’ve had some difficulty getting some simple things and they blame COVID or supplies or stuff like that, the reason that it didn’t get done any sooner,” Davis said. “I’m hopeful that they will start immediately as soon as we move over and they’ll get their crews back in there, start their renovation.
“… The immediate renovation that they’re going to do is one of the current pods that’s used for misdemeanor male holding unit, basically they’ll bust through the wall,” he added.
Keener said renovations include remodeling the minimum security block and old booking section and expanding the visitation area.