Oconee County Council goes over budget on new county jail
The Oconee County Council had set a $17 million ceiling for the cost of constructing a new jail, but the council unanimously approved Tuesday a design that architects estimate will cost about $18.6 million.
In the selected design, which was one of four options presented to the council, the detention area is a one-story, pre-engineered metal building with a capacity of 288 beds rather than an initially conceived 192.
Council members last week asked designers from consultants Carter Goble Lee and architects with Wakefield Beasley/HOK Associates to come up with cost-saving options, including a metal building instead of pre-cast concrete and a less decorous, more industrial type of facade for the building that will sit on South Church Street in Walhalla.
Council member Wayne McCall said the option chosen, which he voted for, was the best of poor choices.
It’s a financial disaster, McCall said of the council vote. We’ve spent the allowance. We’ve broke the bank. We’ve shot Echo Hills and the Golden Corner Commerce Park in the foot.
McCall said he believed the county’s nascent Echo Hills commerce park off S.C. 11 and the developing Golden Corner Commerce Park off S.C. 59 were among about $43 million worth of capital projects being planned in the county that would be endangered by the council’s spending decisions and handling of the county’s bonding capacity.
Council member Paul Corbeil echoed McCall’s concerns but said the county must not slacken the pace of those capital projects, given the need for jobs.
We’re better staying with a smart design, Corbeil said about the jail, else we’re going to start making incorrect trade-offs.
The four options presented to council involved only the bare essentials for a jail while still meeting state detention facility standards, said Joe Lee of Carter Goble Lee, which operates offices around the nation. The designs differed mainly in height and roof profiles, with all costing about $188 per square foot. That is far less, Lee said, than the costs of other similar facilities in the Upstate and parts of northeast Georgia.
The original design, Lee said, used pre-cast concrete for the detention area and was projected to cost $17.8 million before design conferences shaved the estimated costs. The new options used pre-engineered metal buildings for the main detention complex with a pre-cast concrete and brick facade front section for administration.
One option preserved the 192-bed capacity at an estimated cost of $16.9 million but would have left the 4,000-square-foot administrative section an unfinished shell, with jail administration offices left in its present space in the county law enforcement center.
County administrator Scott Moulder argued for the plan with the expanded capacity even with the extra cost.
Moulder last week argued in favor or expanding the original design by an additional 92 beds as way of building with an eye toward future capacity needs for the longest practical time.
To do otherwise, he said, would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The goal, Moulder said, was to build for the projected needs of the next 25 years. The design with the unfinished front, he said, would save about $752,000 on the upfront costs but cost more when the space had to be finished for use.
Invest the money now, so we won’t have to come back and do it later, Moulder said.
Spending money upfront to do it right, Moulder said, would allow the county to avoid the type of problems it has experienced on other projects, such as the Oconee County Regional Airport runway extension and construction of the new courthouse.
The comment drew applause from the audience in the council chamber.
Jail administrator Major Steve Pruitt of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office said he favored the single-story design chosen.
In handling prisoners, Pruitt said, The less you have to deal with elevators, the better.
The design is about 40 percent complete, according to Lee, and within a few weeks the designers will be able to provide a guaranteed maximum price on the project.