published Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Grundy County Jail seeks bids for new jail

  • photo
    Toby Woodlee, part of the crew with local contractor Payne Electric, works to remove a switch box and electric conduit inside the Grundy County Jail as Jared Payne passes by with materials.
    Photo by Ben Benton.
    enlarge photo

CALL FOR BIDS

Bids will be received until 3 p.m. CDT, Sept. 4, 2014, at the Grundy County Courthouse, 68 Cumberland St., Altamont, Tenn. Bids will be opened publicly and read aloud. Project documents will be available Aug. 7 at:

• F.W. Dodge Plan Room, Osborne Center — Suite 110, Chattanooga

• A.G.C. Plan Room, 101 W. 21st St., Chattanooga

• Chattanooga Builders Exchange Plan Room, 2100 S. Greenwood Ave., Chattanooga

• TWH Architects, 651 E. Fourth St., Chattanooga

Source: TWH Architects Inc.

BY THE NUMBERS

$6 million-6.5 million: Estimated construction cost

20: Inmate beds for women

20: Inmate beds for high classification men

56: Dorm-style inmate beds for lower security men

Source: TWH Architects inc.

After more than half a decade of debate, fire and safety problems and, finally last month, an exodus from the Grundy County Jail for state-ordered repairs, officials are taking bids for a new county lockup.

Contractors have until Sept. 4 to file sealed bids to build a 96-bed detention center that will include 20 beds for women and the sheriff’s administrative offices on county-owned property behind the existing courthouse in Altamont, according to Vance Travis, architect with Chattanooga-based TWH Architects.

“It’s a pretty bare-bones type of facility that we’ve thrashed through for the past two years to whittle down the size and area,” Travis said Tuesday.

The priority has been to keep construction costs low, he said.

Cost estimates stand between $6 million and $6.5 million.

“There’ll be parking areas for the sheriff and an impoundment area for confiscated vehicles and other equipment,” Travis said. “It’s also capable of being expanded in the future. You can add housing without having to increase administrative functions.”

Construction should be completed by late 2015 or “perhaps before, if we have good weather during the winter. Up in Altamont, winter can be brutal from time to time,” he said.

The 1970s-era jail was last certified by the state sometime in the 1990s when its capacity was set at 32. Officials and inspection records show the jail regularly houses 50 or more inmates and has only four beds for women. Records also show ongoing fire and inmate safety problems along with sewer system woes and structural issues.

The jail also has been a lightning rod of controversy, resulting in at least one County Commission resignation, a petition opposing construction bonds sought this year, and another bond sought in 2010 that was rescinded by commissioners. The bond sought this year passed, and now the county is moving ahead with plans.

County Mayor Lonnie Cleek said officials believe construction of the jail can be funded through a bond, without another property tax increase, but operational costs are another matter.

It was hoped that a 19.4 percent property tax hike last year would provide needed revenue for county government while producing some money to go toward the new jail’s operational costs.

The new Grundy County Detention Center will take “more electricity, more water, more food, more inmates, more staff, and that’s annually,” Cleek said. “That’s where the [funding] problem lies.”

Cleek said officials were conferring with authorities in other counties that have relatively new, similar-sized jails, like Bledsoe and Sequatchie, to establish cost estimates for operations.

“We’re projecting [the jail’s operational budget] to increase about $500,000 over what we had at the old jail,” he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfree press.com or twitter.com/Ben Benton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

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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