Friday, December 28th, 2007
By Margie Wuebker
Officials taking time checking details on building of new jail
  Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey looks over the latest schematic drawing for a new jail and makes a notation in red - one more detail to discuss with the architect.
"We're taking our time and trying to think ahead," he says. "After all, the jail we build will serve this county for decades to come."
Grey has been meeting regularly with Rick Axline of Shremshock Architects Inc., a Westerville-based firm, to check on all aspects of the proposed construction project since voters narrowly endorsed the funding vehicle - a 0.5 percent sales tax - by a slim 66-vote margin in November. The 15-year tax issue will raise approximately $1.7 million annually to be used to retire the debt on a new jail and pay the increased operating costs for the larger facility.
The next step in the process involves hiring an engineering company to perform 12 to 15 test bores at the proposed site. The process will determine whether the ground there can support the weight of a 100-bed jail.
The jail setback at the site west of the Mercer County Home will match neighboring Foundations Behavioral Health Services. Preliminary plans call for the county home driveway to be widened to accomodate added sheriff's department traffic, meaning there will be no additional outlet onto state Route 29.
Bids will be sought in May following completion of construction blueprints and awarded in July. The goal is to have the building enclosed by winter.
"The jail should be finished within 12 to 15 months after groundbreaking," Grey says. "The timetable for completion puts us at late 2009 with inmates being transferred in early 2010.
The sheriff and county commissioners have discussed a new detention center for more than three years. The current jail, built in 1939, is certified to hold 15 inmates.
"We have one of the older jails in the state," Grey adds. "That is good and bad in some respects."
Officials are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of others who have weathered similar construction projects. He points to all the planning that went into the Putnam County Jail. Officials believed they had all the angles covered, including a higher salliport door to accomodate rescue squad vehicles. Unfortunately, the length of the salliport or garage area was not sufficient to accomodate movement of a guerney with the security door closed.
Visibility is an issue at the current two-story jail. However, the problem will be solved in the future. The new detention facility will have a central control area where the corrections officer can see inmate activity in the various pods. In the event of a problem, control can be switched to the dispatch center.
"People hear the $12 million price tag and envision a fancy building," Grey says. "That could not be further from the truth. The lion's share of the cost is going for security and electronics."
Added security will be focused on the inmate pods and adjacent areas with concrete and steel rebar being added to the block construction. The sheriff is quick to point out the austere surroundings will bear no resemblance to a hotel as some people fear.
A landscaped mound on the west side of the building will serve as an "attractive buffer" for neighboring properties. He expects the exterior to be attractive but not elaborate.
Given rising fuel costs, Grey says he wants to talk with commissioners regarding the installation of alternative heating and cooling systems like geo-thermal. However, the final decision rests with them.
The new facility will house male as well as female inmates in separate areas. There is also a possibility juveniles could be held overnight at some point in the future.
Other amenities include a small courtroom where initial appearances/arraignments could be held with a judge in attendance or presiding via closed-circuit television. This would heighten security particularly in
high-profile cases. The plans also call for video visitation eliminating the need to move inmates.
The 100-bed detention facility is designed to meet the needs of the county for the next 30 to 40 years. Kitchen and clothing exchange areas are larger than needed at the present time. However, the design takes into account the addition of another pod down the road.
"The planning process is fun and scary at that same time," Grey says. "Sheriffs in the future will deal with the decisions made today."

Local retailers to start collecting additional sales tax April 1:
Mercer County retail establishments will begin collecting an additional .05 cent sales tax for the new Mercer County Jail beginning April 1, 2008.
By Ohio statute, collection of sales tax increases approved by a majority of voters in any county begins on day 1 after the first calendar quarter following the election. It must be a least 65 days after the vote count has been certified to the appropriate county board of commissioners and the state tax commissioner by the county board of elections. The first calendar quarter ends March 31.
Customers in the county will not see the approved increase - 1/2 cent on every dollar spent on purchases - until then.
All sales taxes collected by merchants are sent to the Ohio Tax Commission and subsequently returned to the county for the intended purpose, reports Ohio Tax Commission spokesman Mike McKinney.
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