published Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Rhea narrows choices for jail builder

DAYTON, Tenn. -- The Rhea County Jail Committee, looking to build a new facility, has narrowed down 14 prospective construction management companies to four.

On Tuesday night, the committee voted to invite Hewlett Spencer, GRW Inc. and Southbuild as the three contractors for an interview after reviewing their proposals.

In Wednesday's Rhea County Purchase and Finance Committee meeting, Commission Chairman Ronnie Raper motioned for a fourth firm to be considered after a review of the jail committee's votes revealed a tie between GRW and the fourth company, TWH. The motion passed.

The current jail received a citation in September from the Tennessee Corrections Institute for exceeding its certification capacity of 87 inmates. The jail committee agreed that a new jail or justice center should be built to compensate for overcrowding.

The committee will send out notifications to all four companies to attend the Jan. 12 meeting of the finance committee.

At Tuesday's meeting, Sheriff Mike Neal said he'd like to have the construction companies' feasibility studies back, including their recommendations, "within six weeks" but definitely in advance of the March meeting with the state board in Nashville.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute recently approved the jail's recertification but was "reluctant to give the recertification back," TCI Inspector Barry Suttles said at Tuesday's meeting.

He told the committee that the state "needs a long-term agreement" from the county and will "keep you to a [plan of action]. I'm going to work with you."

Commissioner Bill Hollin asked Suttles if the county should include financing in its plan of action to the state. Suttles agreed that the plan should include "some way of financing."

Imposing a wheel tax -- added any time someone registers a car in Rhea County -- or raising the property tax are funding options discussed for the new jail or justice center, which could cost up to $12 million, according to a 1995 feasibility study.

"We don't have the money unless we pass the wheel tax," Hollin said, because most county residents own at least one or two vehicles, as opposed to many who don't own property.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net.

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