BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission decided Tuesday to go ahead with plans for a new medical facility at the county jail to fix problems with the existing medical area and to provide better housing for juvenile prisoners.
The board unanimously agreed to seek proposals from qualified design and building professionals for a freestanding building a consultant said would cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.
The engineering firm that examined the Hernando County Detention Center last year had recommended an option that would have shuffled space in the jail and required additions to several areas. That would have cost about $3.7 million, said Lisa Hammond, purchasing and contracting consultant for the Clerk of the Circuit Court. She said that option was not viable.
The County Commission last year approved setting aside $3 million from reserve funds to address jail maintenance problems.
Officials hope a new medical facility, which would provide more room for inmates who need supervision, might help the county once again attract some federal prisoners, which would provide added income to the county because of higher federal per-diem rates.
The juvenile population, which now is housed in a 40-inmate pod, would be moved to the existing medical area after minor improvements, such as painting, are finished there.
Those extra spaces for the general jail population are needed, said Maj. Michael Page, administrator for the detention center.
He also said more medical beds are needed. On Tuesday he said there were 14 people housed in the unit, which had just nine permanent beds. There are also inmates in the general population who should be in the medical unit.
The new facility would hold between 27 and 40 beds.
No new staff would be needed at the medical building.
Page also said the medical unit showed "22 years of neglect" under former private operator Corrections Corporation of America. The unit has plumbing issues, problems with rats and roaches and all the sprinkler heads had been capped by CCA, he said. Those were recently fixed, he added.
When asked by commissioners if the new medical facility would bring back federal prisoners, Page said he couldn't guarantee it would, but he could be sure that until the medical facilities were improved, the county stands no chance of attracting them.
The poor facilities were part of the reason the federal government pulled them out two years ago, he said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said sometimes replacing is better than repairing especially when there is a problem the county can never make right.
"We knew when we took over the jail, it was in trouble,'' Dukes said, noting that the commission bore the responsibility to make it better.
Commissioners also approved seeking bids or quotes to complete another $155,000 worth of repairs needed at the facility, including addressing problems from a leaking roof.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins asked if there would be any of the $3 million left over after the new building and other repairs were completed. Hammond said there would be no money left over and the staff was trying to get as much done with the money as possible.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.