Architects to inspect jail

By Stephen S. Glass

Star Staff

   Three times this year, inmates at the Carter County Jail have flooded the building, sending water cascading down the walls into court offices housed below.
   During a meeting of the Carter County Building and Grounds Committee Thursday, committee members spoke with an architect about taking measures to prevent future flooding at the jail.
   Architect Tony Street, of Beeson, Lusk & Street, told the committee that during a preliminary inspection of the jail he had encountered "no problem that could not be rectified."
   Among the laundry list of problems Street found at the building were inadequate sprinkler heads, toilets and drains, damaged windows, and broken locks. Interestingly enough, at least two of the problems are direct results of building codes written specifically for jails, Street said.
   Chief Deputy James Parrish told the committee that during recent jail floodings most of the water had come from the overhead sprinkler system when inmates bent or broke sprinkler heads, causing a torrential downpour inside the jail.
   When members of Street's firm first designed the jail more than 20 years ago, break-away sprinkler heads were installed to meet building codes for detention facilities, Street said.
   "The sprinkler system was a contested issue at the time," said Street. "The heads were designed to come off so prisoners couldn't hang themselves."
   Street said that new "vandal-resistant" sprinkler heads might solve the problem. If not, he said the committee might have to consider installing a new system.
   Street also said that cells at the jail had been designed with small drains in order to meet inspection by a "detention facility clearinghouse."
   "Drains were a much-discussed issue when the project was designed," said Street, adding that the drains had been designed to prevent inmates from hiding contraband in them. "Existing drains are there, but water is not getting through them as it should."
   In a recent letter to County Executive Truman Clark, Street said that enlarging drain openings in the jail corridors and covering them with perforated steel screens might solve the drainage problem.
   Street also said that automatic shut-off devices could be installed on toilets to prevent sewage overflow and that damaged windows in the jail could be glazed with "impact resistant materials" to prevent further damage.
   Committee members voted unanimously to allow a team from Beeson, Lusk and Street to re-inspect the jail and draw up a cost-analysis report.
   Parrish asked the committee to consider releasing $15,000 in funds to pay for repairs to locks on individual cell doors in each cell block.
   "Compartmentalizing inmates would solve a lot of the mischief and other problems we've had at the jail," Parrish said. "This is a security issue as much as it is a drainage problem."
   Committee members deferred making that decision until they receive a list of priorities from Street.
   Street said his firm would render services by the hour, but that the analysis would cost the county no more than $5,000.