New county jail in the works

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A new Pike County Jail could be coming soon, as the Pike County Commission voted unanimously on Monday to retain an architectural firm to oversee the project.

Sheriff Russell Thomas requested the action during the commission’s budget hearings, bringing along a tangible example of the jail’s leakage problem.

“We didn’t realize how bad the situation was until we went in and found this,” Thomas said, holding up a sharp object in an evidence bag. “This is a 12-inch shank that was crafted from the rust inside of one of the cells.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Thomas said that a brick mason who took a look at the building as a favor said “with a good strong wind, it’s coming down.”

Thomas brought along Renis Jones, principal architect for Pearson, Humphries and Jones Architects (PH&J), to outline his assessment of the situation.

“The building has outlived its suspected useful life,” Jones said. “Our structural engineer recommended that it would need to have the parapet taken off, as well as loose brickwork and have an entire new envelope for the building. Basically what you’re talking about is rebuilding a building that ought to be brought down.”

Instead of attempting to fix the current structure, Jones recommended building a new building, which he estimated would generally cost between $7.5 million and $8 million.

“It’s a lot more in-depth than I thought,” Thomas said. “I thought we might be able to fix it with a couple hundred thousand dollars. There’s nothing we can do with the walls leaning out like they are.”

Jones said that the current jail is overcrowded and suggested that the new facility should have 115 to 125 beds.

Thomas said the jail currently has about 40 beds and generally averages about 75 inmates, but has recently been averaging about 62. Thomas also said that only two beds are designated for females, but that there are usually between four and eight women at the facility.

The jail was built in 1957 and Thomas said it’s the oldest jail in operation in the state.

Jones visited the jail 10 years ago and said that things have gotten “markedly worse” since then.

“It’s amazing the sheriff is even able to keep the rain out as much as he is,” Jones said.

“They don’t keep the rain out when it rains three inches,” said Chairman Joey Jackson. “They just do a lot of mopping.”

Jones estimated that the project will take at least 2 and a half years for design, bid and construction. That doesn’t include the amount of time it may take for the county to find funds.

“Will it be safe for two more years?” asked Commissioner Homer Wright. “There’s a lot of human beings in that building.”

The major issue, Jones said, is removing the parapet to remove weight from walls that are leaning dangerously.

Jones said that a recommendation was included to remove the parapet and some of the loose brickwork at minimum to make the jail as safe as possible until an alternative is built.

The commission unanimously voted to honor that recommendation in addition to the vote to retain PH&J for the long-term project.

All commissioners were present for the meeting and budget hearings.