Hood shows how we can build a much less expensive jail | Beaufort County Now | Why do "some commissioners" want to build a jail that is three times as large as we need? Why do they want to move one of the largest county departments out of Washington?

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    Publisher's Note: This article originally appeared in the Beaufort Observer.

"Build no more than is needed now, and expand later if need be"

    Why do "some commissioners" want to build a jail that is three times as large as we need? Why do they want to move one of the largest county departments out of Washington? Those who want to move the jail out of town also want to move the Sheriff's Department to the Industrial Park--and ultimately the court house--are working hard to convince the public our historic location in down town Washington is just not good enough or big enough for our future needs. Part of their pitch is that the court house in antiquated. No doubt, if we built a new court house today, we would not build it like the existing court hose. To say the court house is no longer adequate to fill our needs is simply not so. If we do our maintenance the court house should be good for another 100 years. We should have learned our lesson about replacing buildings when we over built those schools when we already had adequate buildings. Our children will pay off those bonds.

    Accusations have been made that the new jail will not fit on the land we now have in the court house block. The architects study says we need approximately 288 jail beds to build a jail to last us 30 years. He used a 3 percent growth rate for crime. Beaufort County population growth has been less than 1 percent for the last 20 years. I believe the projections for the size of the jail are high.

    Compartmentalizing the building of the jail will render irrelevant the issue of how many beds we need in the future. We can build what we need now and expand for what we need in the future as that need presents itself. This proposal provides for building compartments consisting of two cell blocks which hold a total of 48 beds in each block or 96 beds per compartment. If we built two compartments we would double the size of the present jail. A third compartment could be built at some point in the future when and if needed. In another article I suggested we only need to build 150 beds. However, the economies of compartments lead me to now propose two compartments or 192 cells. We could build a core to accommodate the 288 future beds. The core consists of the kitchen, the laundry, storage, and office spaces for magistrates and jail workers. The reason for building the core facilities now is that core facilities are expensive and sometimes impossible to expand.

    One of the present plans presented by the architect is for a four story jail building. The entire four story building would have to be built at one time. When completed, there would be a lot of unused cells. Some jails use excess capacity to rent to state, federal and other counties for their prisoners. Beaufort County has little opportunity to do this because almost all counties in the East have built new jails during the past ten years, we are not close enough to a federal court house to handle federal prisoners and Pitt County has about 100 cells unused at this time so we would be competing against them. Facing these conditions we only need to build for our near term needs and add jail compartments as needed in ten or twenty years.

    The sketch accompanying this article is of the court house site. Click here to review the layout. Building on pilings in two story compartments provides a plan that is easily expanded as needed. I have used some of the basic information from the court house site plan prepared by Moseley Architects to show that we can build as many as four compartments on the court house site which would house 384 prisoners. We only need to house 288 prisoners 30 years from now. In order for any of these plans to work we would have to acquire the Johnston Office Building located beside the managers office. The present Sheriff's offices, the tax offices, my office building, the Partrick law offices and the Mayo law office building would not be demolished. In order to have space for the fourth compartment we would demolish the county manager's office building. That would not happen for 40 or 50 years. We lose only a small amount of parking space using this plan. Parking would be available at ground level under the jail.

    Furthermore, building the jail behind the Courthouse and keeping the Sheriff's Office downtown would keep about 70 jobs downtown and help the economic viability of the downtown area. The jail and Sheriff's Office is like any other business downtown. We don't need to continue to lose economic activity downtown.

    In summary, we can build what we need now, expand as the need arises over time and save the taxpayers millions of dollars while helping promote the economic viability of downtown Washington.
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