Only minutes from where construction crews are building a state-of-the-art facility, Washington County’s first jail remains on display.
Only minutes from where construction crews are building a state-of-the-art facility, Washington County’s first jail remains on display. The tiny wooden structure is the oldest lockup in the state of Georgia, and is a far cry from the county’s latest effort.
“It’s a crude, one-room wooden log building that was built for the purposes of detaining Vice President Aaron Burr,” explained Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith. “It’s still a tourist attraction, and people are always stopping to take pictures. It’s a big contrast to the new 236-bed, mostly concrete construction jail.”
The new law enforcement center, located in nearby Sandersville, Ga., is expected to be completed in May 2016. The administration side will be one floor, while the jail pod will occupy two floors. The total square footage is 69,653.
Work on the new building began in September 2014. Currently, construction is approximately 35 percent complete. Smith said the jail is needed, as some inmates are forced to sleep on Red Cross cots, due to serious overcrowding. The current building can only house 52 inmates. Being unable to properly classify inmates is another big concern.
“Lack of classification is dangerous for inmates and staff,” Smith remarked. “For example, someone booked for fraud or D.U.I. sometimes will be in the same cell pod as someone with a more serious crime such as aggravated assault or burglary. Overcrowding can also contribute to communicable disease. As far as the staff, the jailers are not safe because of the overcrowding. One jailer is responsible for 82 inmates.”
No precast units are being used in the construction. Instead, crews are building a super pod at the work site.
“A super pod is just a larger pod built to hold more inmates than the design of a regular pod the architect usually designs,” said Smith. “To save money, a super pod was built instead of two regular sized pods.”
The project will be financed through bonds at a cost of $16 million. A one-cent sales tax helped the jail become a reality.
“The penny sales tax is a very fair tax, not only do people who live in Washington County pay these taxes, but people living in surrounding counties come and shop here which contributes to the tax,” Smith explained.
The Washington County Development Authority owned the property where the new law enforcement center and jail will be located, and gave the land back to the county for development of the project.
“This was very significant,” stated Smith. “If the land had to be purchased, it would have probably cost in excess of one million dollars to comparable land elsewhere.”
The new jail is situated on Kaolin Road, less than a quarter of a mile from the existing facility. The new structure will feature two-person cells, as opposed to open dormitory types that are now in place. Updated surveillance and other electronics will be used. Also, the new jail will reportedly be more economical to operate, based on new technology.
“The community should care, because not only will they be safer, but also those with family members in the jail should feel better that the inmates will be more safe, because of the classification process,” said Smith. “If we were to add on and update the current facility, we would still have some of the same problems and issues we have now. Also, there is no feasible land available to expand the new facility.”
So far, there have been no significant delays or setbacks regarding construction.
“All scopes are ongoing,” explained Thomas Hall, president of Dublin Construction, which is serving as the general contractor. “We are now working on the second story of the pod areas.”
The structure is cast in place concrete, masonry walls, structural steel, pre-cast hollow core floor for the second floor and ceiling. The building is a two-story, fairly large facility.
Equipment on site includes track hoes, graders, back hoes, variable reach lifts, compactors and off-road dump trucks. The main materials being used include concrete, block and steel.
A total of 140,000 cu. yds. (107,038 cu m) of dirt is being moved on the project.
“It was a clear site other than stumpage,” said Hall. “The site is roughly 40 acres, and had moderate elevation changes.”
The weather has proven the biggest challenge, so far, with more than 40 days of delays, said Hall, who adds, “We have a very good collective team between the owner, design professionals and contractor.”
The new building includes a multi-purpose facility, administration offices and a shooting range. All areas will be connected over the sprawling compound.
Dublin Construction has built several jails in surrounding counties. Hall said having experience is extremely helpful in carrying out various tasks.
“We have constructed numerous jails and correctional facilities. They are not your typical construction, due to the security aspects of the projects. If one is not aware of what to expect during the bid or construction process, they most likely have lessons learned at a substantial loss. This also is relevant to subcontractors bidding the scopes to us. A correctional facility is no place for anyone to take on without having some knowledge of what all is involved in the process.”
Washington County Jail is a maximum security facility. Inmates range from low level offenders to those being held for violent crimes such as robbery, rape and murder. Some of the security features in the current facility include cameras, electronic detection and reinforced fencing topped with razor wire.
Men, women and juveniles being held in the Washington County Jail are either awaiting trial, transfer or have been sentenced in the Washington County court system already and are serving a period of time of one year or less. When an inmate faces a year or more behind bars, they are admitted into the Georgia prison or federal prison system.
For Smith and other law enforcement staffers, the transfer to the new jail can’t come too soon.
“We are very eager, because of the current unsafe conditions at the present facility. The new facility will provide for the citizens to be more safe in their homes, due to the overcrowding and unsafe conditions.”