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Hernando commissioners size up jail repair list

BROOKSVILLE — The engineering report that shocked county commissioners this week by concluding the Hernando jail needs $14.9 million in repairs became a little clearer on Wednesday.

Most of that recommended spending, about $8.5 million, would remodel and rebuild the jail instead of just repairing long-neglected areas.

County commissioners said Wednesday that there was no way they would approve $14.9 million in jail upgrades. Their focus will be on things that need to be fixed immediately.

"There are wants and there are needs,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "It's important to meet the needs but within our budget.''

The commission has set aside a $3 million reserve for jail repairs.

The 69-page HDR Engineering Inc. report sparked a heated debate at the commissioners' Tuesday meeting, as the board wrestled with whether to release $1.86 million the county is holding back to Corrections Corporation of America. The board deferred a decision until the final report is available in two weeks.

CCA has demanded immediate payment. The HDR report indicates that CCA should be responsible for about $1 million of the total costs because of deferred maintenance.

The report raises questions about whether the jail complies with fire codes and details every security, maintenance, architectural, plumbing and electrical problem, along with a price, in most cases, of what each would cost to fix.

The list includes all the items that have been publicly aired for months, since CCA officials decided to end their contract to run the facility they have operated for 22 years. The sheriff took over in August.

The report lists the need for replacement windows and doors, roof repairs and a reconstruction of the slab in one recreation area where the slope runs rainwater directly into the jail.

Recommendations include replacing all lighting fixtures that use lights not permitted by code, at the cost of $350,000; another $325,000 related to fire alarm concerns and $225,000 for a campuswide lightning protection system.

But the figures grow when the report details demolishing the medical section because it has "inadequate space to meet immediate needs" and rebuilding it where the booking area is now. A new booking area is proposed as well as a new sally port.

The video visitation area would be moved out to a mobile building owned by the Hernando Sheriff's Office and placed in a corner of the parking lot. The existing space would become a new inmate release area.

Security improvements include demolition and construction of a housing area control center, new locking systems, intercoms and even improvements to the court TV system because of "high liability, dangerous mandatory communications interruptions.''

Commissioner Jim Adkins likened the remodeling portions of the HDR report to the Christmas wish lists his children used to prepare. He said he is going through the document line by line to determine what is a security and code issue and how many more items should be CCA's responsibility.

He said that as he went through the list of needed upgrades and code violations, he wondered why none of the previous agencies and entities that inspect jails found any of the same problems. The most recent measure of the facility based on the state's Model Jail Standards showed not a single flaw.

Using inmate labor could bring some of the costs down, said Commissioner Rose Rocco. "These are recommendations,'' she said of the report. "We don't have to take them.''

She called some of the items listed "out of hand'' and also noted that the budget was a big concern. "We don't have that kind of money,'' Rocco said.

"It's fairly obvious that we don't have (millions of dollars) to do all of the fixes right now,'' said Chairman John Druzbick. But he was optimistic that some hungry contractors might give better prices for work than what is listed in the report.

"I believe we will be able to accomplish a substantial portion of it,'' he said.

As for the suggestions for remodeling and reconstruction, Druzbick said that was part of the scope of what the engineer was asked to do.

The recommendations are ways the jail could run more efficiently, thus returning more money to the county.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he saw the report as a waste of money and possibly a future liability for the county.

"If we only spend the $3 million, will we be setting ourselves up for the mother of all lawsuits because we didn't spend the $15 million our professional engineer told us to spend,'' he said. "We just can't afford this stuff.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

By the numbers

Major jail project recommendations in engineering report:

$29,000 to demolish second floor medical unit

$1.45M to remodel 5,800 square feet of current booking and holding area to be new medical unit

$549,000 to remodel the former video viewing area to become a new inmate release area

$465,000 to remodel a portion of the sally port garage

$560,000 to replace a portion of the sally port garage

$2.5M to build a 5,000 square foot intake and booking area, waiting area and holding cells

$3M in security systems, locks, demolition and rebuilding of housing control room "visual hub"

? Cost not yet determined to move public video visiting to a modular building in the current parking area

Hernando commissioners size up jail repair list 09/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 7:50pm]
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