County mulling #036;2.5 million bond for new jail

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2005

A new jail for Butler County is on the horizon but it won't come cheaply.

The Butler County Commission held a special called meeting on Monday to discuss the upcoming costs of building and operating a new jail. Mike Rutland, an architect with 2WR, the firm that has been handling the design of the new facility since its proposal some three years ago, met with the commission and stated up front that costs would be higher than originally anticipated. Rutland estimates that it will cost the county between $3.5 million to $4 million to build the 16,500 square-foot, 53-bed facility that was originally planned.

Hurricane season, he said, has had an impact.

"Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita have taken a toll on our resources," said Rutland. "We have had some cost increases."

Chairman Jesse McWilliams said the county has already saved $1.6 million, money from annually accumulated court costs, to go towards building the jail. The commission is considering bonding an additional $2 million to $2.5 million to cover the construction costs.

Even then the new jail may not be enough to hold all the county's prisoners.

Sheriff Diane Harris said the current 76-year-old county jail, at times, has housed anywhere upwards to 67 prisoners with some having to sleep on the floor or on cots. Harris was even forced to close the jail for two days in December of 2003, transporting prisoners to Lowndes County for holding, because of no heat.

"I don't like to see anybody sleep on the floor," she said. "And they are innocent until proven guilty."

Commissioner Frank Hickman said he knew the average number of prisoners incarcerated in the current jail had jumped.

"And it may spike again," he said. "We may be foolish, but we may have to build the only jail we can afford right now."

McWilliams said his personal opinion was that the county build now and prepare for the future. The jail would be designed and built in a way to allow for future expansions to the facility.

"We feel - if we can - we need to build it and operate with the money we have," he said.

However, he noted that the commission had no powers of taxation and paying for the jail could involve a cutback of county employees or services.

Rutland said in looking at the total cost of the facility a number of issues needed to be addressed, most importantly that it meets the sheriff's needs and how much it costs to operate as far as staffing goes.

"We have to be smart in our assessment of this facility," he said.

Rutland said the jail would be in the design phase for an estimated four months. Actual construction, he said, would take approximately 16 months.

Rutland said he architectural firm has completed some 20 jails within the State of Alabama. He said the new Butler County Jail would meet all requirements of the American Correctional Association as well as Alabama jail standards.

The commission will hold a work session on Thursday at 6 p.m. for its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Oct. 10.

The regular meeting will start at 8:30 a.m.