To move or not to move?

Photo by Kristen Luther
County Mayor Dale Fair discusses with the Jail Task Force Committee its options for a future jail - whether to expand and renovate the existing jail or build a new one at some other location. Fair said there is one offer on the table for the General Shale property, which is approximately five acres.

By Lesley Hughes
star staff

  The Jail Task Force committee made no preparatory decisions for the future jail on Monday evening except to decide that more input was needed by the rest of the Carter County Commission.
  The committee argued that since the final decision of whether to build a future jail on different property or renovate the existing jail for future needs on the current property, then the whole county commission should voice its opinion in a workshop.
  For almost an hour committee members agreed that they needed to make the "Do we stay or do we go" decision, but they also felt that other commissioners would be helpful in making a recommendation and giving the task force a new direction in recruiting different land acquisition or studying the possibilities of renovating and expanding the current facility.
  According to County Mayor Dale Fair, one of the obstacles with the jail being expanded at the current site is the lack of land available for acquisition. Less than a half of an acre belongs to the city of Elizabethton, which might be an option to purchase, but the city also has the stipulation that there won't be a deal unless there is another place to locate a softball field.
  Fair added, "I am not in the position to make this decision."
  Sheriff John Henson said, "I can live with either one but what can the taxpayers live with? What is it going to cost to stay or to go?"
  If another location is chosen to build the jail, options will open up for more efficient designs instead of the limited designs that the current location offers. Presently, the current building can only be expanded up and to the side facing the ball fields and city park. Ideally, the task force doesn't want to place more prisoners in another story above other prisoners, for obvious flooding concerns that have occurred in the past.
  Henson said, "Security wise, it is a lot better with one story. The building is built around with a control center in the middle. The jailer can see every inmate in the jail. There is no way they can hide from you."
  Fair has one offer on the table for land available to build a new correctional facility, with other sites in mind. These sites will remained unidentified until offers have been extended.
  The one offer he has heard is located on the former General Shale property for a little more than five acres. Consultants from Barge, Waggoner, Sumner, and Cannon have informed the task force that to build a new jail for 20-year plans and to allow for a future expansion, the county will need to acquire at least seven acres.
  Carter County Sheriff Department Deputy Brad Johnson said the current plans to renovate the existing jail are expected to cost $14 million. In a prior meeting, he said one company has said they can have a new jail built on another site within a year for $8 to $10 million.
  In other business, the county has until January 15 to have the modular jail units on site and in operation to comply with the privately settled lawsuit. Updating that progress, Finance Director Jason Cody said two detention pods will be finished by Eagle Company by the end of the week. Another pod is in the paint production currently, while the final two units have not been started but are expected to be completed and delivered by January 15. Fair said Eagle Company and Preston Construction, performing the site preparations, are aware of the deadline.
  The task force also approved a work change order for $47,963. This overage will be discussed at the budget committee and county commission meeting on December 13. The overage creates a $20,000 to $30,000 overage above the loan amount, making it possible that the commission will have to dip into the fund balance to cover it.