By Tim Cox
Mercer County needs a new 90- to 100-bed jail built to modern standards, but county officials still want to know how much building and staffing such a facility might cost.
County commissioners on Thursday heard the results of a needs assessment analysis done by Shremshock Architects and private consultant David Blodgett, both of Columbus. The study largely supported what county officials already knew -- the county lock-up is vastly undersized and outdated based on today's state standards for jails.
The study compared the local jail to others in surrounding and similar-sized counties. The consultants also looked at court caseloads and other issues that dictate the necessary size of a jail needed to serve an area.
With a bigger jail, the county could curb overcrowding problems and local courts would have more latitude to impose jail sentences, the study said.
"The number of beds available has largely determined the sentencing arrangements of the courts, a situation that should be the reverse in a responsive criminal justice system," the study's executive summary says. The local jail, built in 1939, is approved to hold 15 inmates but sometimes houses nearly twice that many. The jail's shortcomings pose certain risks, including "safety, security, constitutionally acceptable housing and adequate correctional programming opportunities," the study said.
But commissioners want to know how much a new facility would cost.
Cost estimates will be part of another study phase, consultant Rick Axline said. County officials and consultants are following a Bureau of Adult Detention stipulated process for pursuing new jail construction. Cost will be determined during the architectural narrative, a process that begins to establish building details but that does not include actual drawings.
"The architectural narrative will define what each space in the jail would be and the size of those spaces," Axline said, calling the process a "springboard into actual design."
Commissioners have not discussed how they might opt to fund a new jail. A countywide sales tax that would have to be approved by voters would be the most likely option.
Commissioners also wanted to know how much additional staff would be needed to run a new jail and what those costs might be. Sheriff Jeff Grey and the consultants provided no figures but said they did not expect staffing to create a big financial problem for the sheriff's office.
After the meeting, Grey said he believed any additional manpower needed would be minimal.
In two weeks, commissioners will hear the results of Shremshock's site selection analysis. That study will examine the criteria of six potential sites and the best overall site will be recommended.
County officials for years have talked about the county-owned land near the county home and Cheryl Ann complex along Fleetfoot Road west of Celina as the potential site for a jail.
Commissioners said Thursday they are not bound by the study's recommended number of beds or by the forthcoming site selection recommendation.