BY THE NUMBERS
Bledsoe County Correctional Complex
• $208 million: Total project cost
• 450: Estimated new jobs
• 300: Minimum-security beds
• 1,024: Medium-security beds
• 120: Maximum-security beds
• 1,444: Total beds
Source: Tennessee Department of Correction
PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — Like a giant Lego project, the $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex is taking shape as rows of massive gray housing units are configured from stacked, precast cells built on the prison grounds.
The 1,444-bed state prison going up on Horsehead Road should get its first tenants in January 2013, Warden Jim Morrow said Thursday.
It sits on 2,200 acres of the Cumberland Plateau along with the 971-bed Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility and Taft Youth Center.
The new prison will house mostly medium-security prisoners, with a few hundred minimum- and maximum-security inmates, Morrow said. It employs some of the latest prison design features, he said, including a pair of tunnels that are the only entrance and exit for the 431,000-square-foot facility.
“The tunnel is a new concept in the Department of Correction,” he said. “Only two facilities — Morgan County and us — have this type of tunnel in their design.”
The tunnels go under fences to connect to the main prison without interrupting a perimeter road around the facility. Every person — staff, visitors and prisoners — entering or leaving the prison must pass through the central control area’s prison staff, he said.
“Central control is kind of the heart of the facility,” he said.
Cost-saving features include large windows and skylights and geothermal heating and cooling. The system uses 580 wells to circulate air underground where the temperature is 55 to 58 degrees. That reduces the cost of additional heating or cooling to comfortable temperatures.
Ted Davidson, senior project manager for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said almost all the prison complex’s 28 buildings will use the geothermal system to keep costs as low as possible.
Besides five housing units, the prison will have buildings for administration, security, visitation, infirmary, cafeteria and work programs, Davidson said.
On-site fabrication helps keep cost down, he said.
Concrete and steel components that make up the 80-square-foot cells are built about a half-mile away and trucked to the construction grounds. A crane lifts them into place before roofs, floors or other parts of the structure are installed.
On Thursday, the site held a mix of finished buildings, some just roofed and several that stood uncovered in doubled-stacked rows of cells. About 300 construction workers were buzzing about.
“We’re about 40 percent complete,” Davidson said.
Once the prison is ready, Morrow said, the inmates will come mostly from state prisoners now housed in county jails across the state. Many counties earn money by housing state inmates in their jails, but Morrow said he didn’t think counties will lose much money.
Morrow said the design allows for expansion. He also said the new prison will be tougher to manage than the existing one.
“We’ll have maximum-security prisoners, while we’ve only had medium-security prisoners in the past,” he said.
A housing unit for 120 prisoners classified higher than medium security will segregate prisoners into four security levels, with maximum being the most dangerous inmates. Four other 256-bed units will be for medium-security prisoners and a separate 300-bed building will house minimum-security inmates.
Tennessee Department of Correction Lt. Steve McGraw said he hopes to be assigned to the new prison when it opens. McGraw said he has worked at the prison across the road for 26 years.
“It’s really been an experience watching the thing go up,” McGraw said.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...