published Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Grundy County hires architect for jail

Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek stands in a minimum security area of the current jail that has only one working light.
Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek stands in a minimum security area of the current jail that has only one working light.
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COUNTY JAILS ACROSS REGION


Grundy County will be the last rural county in the region to undertake a major jail project.

County Built Expanded/Cost

Bledsoe 2011 $7.4 million

Bradley 2003 $16 million

Grundy 1973 Estimate $7-$10 million

Marion 2001 $8 million

McMinn 1992 $5.6 million

Meigs 2001 $760,000 (expansion)

Polk 2007 $8 million

Rhea 2003 $200,000 (expansion, new study under way)

Sequatchie 2006 $8 million

Source: Local county governments, newspaper archives

Grundy County commissioners voted Monday to hire architectural firm TWH Architects to produce designs for a new jail and for expansion of the existing jail to resolve overcrowding and safety problems.

Commissioners debated for more than a year whether to renovate or build a new jail, County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said, and finally decided to obtain formal design proposals for each option.

Cleek said both proposals likely will include plans for 100 inmate beds to answer capacity needs for years to come. He said the jail was designed for 34 but regularly holds more than 50 prisoners.

Past proposals' costs ranged from $7 million to $10 million, but Cleek said costs and financing will be back on the table with the new proposals expected early next year.

Back in the spring, Commissioner Michael Brady questioned a feasibility study by TWH because it lacked an option for renovating the existing jail. People attending a recent town hall meeting to discuss the jail were most worried about how to fund a solution, and Brady said most favored the idea of looking at a renovation first.

Brady said he won't commit to a solution until every option is weighed, but noted that 100 beds "would probably cover what we need at least for the life expectancy of that jail with the renovations."

He said he also wants to study other options, such as housing Grundy's inmates in other counties.

TWH president Vance Travis said his proposals will include plans for a 100-bed expansion on the old jail's site and for a 100-bed, stand-alone facility on county land behind the Grundy County Courthouse.

"I think [getting two proposals is] a very prudent thing to do, because I will give them the tools with regard to design and the preliminary costs of construction to evaluate which site's better," Travis said.

He said the existing jail site is smaller and allows little room for future expansion, but the old jail would be suitable for administrative and operational space. The courthouse site a couple of blocks away would allow for future expansion, be positioned close enough to court to keep officers from having to transport prisoners too far for hearings, and include new office space for administration and the sheriff's office.

about Ben Benton...

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 ...

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