Franklin Co. Concerned About Jail Expansion Cost

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia

Franklin County Commissioners are balking at the proposed cost of expanding the Franklin County Detention Center.

At its regular meeting earlier this month, the Franklin County Commission heard from architect Tom Wright of Wright, Mitchell & Associates.

He said even with some trimming of the design, the total cost would now be somewhere around $2.4 million, with a $57,000 contingency.

Wright said in today’s economy, that is an extremely good price.

“That was for approximately 15,500 square feet or $153 a square foot,” Wright said. “The typical cost of a new jail is typically $260 to $280 (a square foot). We are $100 less than what it would normally cost in this region.”

The proposed plan calls for an extra pod at the Franklin County Detention Center to house non-violent offenders and women.

It would consist of four dormitories.

Three unisex dorms would contain 24 beds each, one dorm for women only would have 22 beds, and there would also be two cells in an isolation section which would each have two beds.

However, the $2.4 million is not what Wright had initially told the board the extra pod would cost.

Franklin County Commissioner Clint Harper said he wanted answers.

“What happened to the figure we were quoted of no more than $1.5 million?” Harper asked. “I think when we first were told of this, $1.3 or $1.4 was thrown out and then you said $1.5. But ever since that day, we’ve never seen anything even close to that figure.”

Wright said the initial cost he quoted the board was based on old figures and did not include $900,000 in security equipment.

However, Harper said that there is no way FranklinCounty can afford to pay $2.4 million for a new jail pod.

“I’m telling you we’re looking at serious problems at $2.4 million dollars, plus the $180,000 that it’s going to take to man that unit, plus $2,000 a month for utilities,” Harper said. “We’re going to run into big problems with our budget.”

Harper said Franklin County would have to raise taxes to pay $2.4 million for a new jail pod.

Franklin County Commission Chair Thomas Bridges suggested the county begin looking for alternative funding in the form of USDA loans or bonds.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Jeff Jacques said the board needs to have a separate work session to discuss the matter further.

“It’s not only what it’s going to cost, but how we’re going to pay for it,” he said. “We know we have approximately a million dollars in the jail fund. We need to know just the basic costs difference is between what finances we currently have and what we’re looking at, just tentatively, on the actual cost.”

Commissioner David Strickland agreed and said Wright did not give the board the true picture when he first presented the project.

After more discussion, the board decided, without taking a vote, to hold a work session at a future date to discuss the cost of the new jail pod further.