Consultants say new Polk jail to cost $7.9 million

Published 8:33 pm Thursday, January 28, 2016

Polk County Commissioners agreed to hire Moseley Architects to design a new jail. Moseley conducted a feasibility study on a new jail with Polk’s choice being a 74-bed facility estimated at $7.9 million, not including land acquisition or a new sheriff’s office. Pictured is the current jail in Columbus, constructed in 1975. (Photo by Leah Justice)

Polk County Commissioners agreed to hire Moseley Architects to design a new jail. Moseley conducted a feasibility study on a new jail with Polk’s choice being a 74-bed facility estimated at $7.9 million, not including land acquisition or a new sheriff’s office. Pictured is the current jail in Columbus, constructed in 1975. (Photo by Leah Justice)

By Leah Justice


Polk County has received its feasibility study from consultants concerning a new jail, with estimates for a 74-bed facility coming in at $7,971,058, and that doesn’t include the sheriff’s office.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, Jan. 25 and heard from Todd Davis and Jason Hopkins with Moseley Architects regarding the feasibility study on the county’s jail needs.

Adding a sheriff’s office with the jail would tag on another $150 per square foot if the 911 communication center is not housed there and another $200 per square foot if the 911 center is housed there, according to Moseley representatives.

The square footage needed for a sheriff’s office that officials discussed Monday were 10,000 and 12,000 square feet, which would add another $1.5-$1.8 million without the 911 center and another $2-2.4 million to the almost $8 million price tag with the 911 center.

Currently, Polk’s 911 communication center is not housed in the sheriff’s office/jail building.

Davis told commissioners his firm looked at past inspection reports and some deficiencies with the current jail. Polk County’s jail was constructed in 1975 and currently has 25 inmate beds and does not house females or juveniles. Despite its age and deficiencies, Davis said Polk’s jail is working very efficiently.

“I will say your jail facility is working as efficiently as anyone in the state,” Davis said.

Moseley gave the county a few options for a new jail: to construct a new one on a new site, to renovate or expand the existing jail or to build a new jail beside the current jail on the same property.

Hopkins said renovating or expanding the current jail is not feasible due to inadequate core size and the age of the existing facility. There is a lack of conformance to current jail standards at the current jail, as well as life safety issues such as sprinklers and engineered smoke control, Hopkins said. Hopkins also said the adjacent site is irregular, so any future expansion of the jail would be difficult.

To build a stand alone new jail adjacent to the current jail is also not recommended, according to Moseley representatives because it would have to be two stories high and future expansion would be difficult.

Hopkins said they don’t typically recommend two-story jail facilities because what ends up happening is the offices are located on the main floor and the inmates are housed upstairs and inmates figure out how to flood below and cause damage plus staffing needs are increased for a two-story facility. He also said future expansion is difficult because it locks the county in and in the long run the county wouldn’t really save any money.

Option 3, which is what the majority of commissioners said they would like to see, is recommended to be on at least five acres of land. The acquisition of the property is not included in Moseley figures but site preparation was included in the almost $8 million total.

The negatives of a new site are that the county would likely need to purchase new land and there is difficulty in finding an appropriate site because of the “not in my back yard” sentiments from potential neighbors.

“No one wants to live near a jail,” said Hopkins.

Option 3A, which is the 74-bed facility rather than another option given, 3B, a 56-bed facility, is designed as a 100-bed core, which means the kitchen is equipped to serve 100 inmates at a time. The 56-bed option was estimated to cost $7,432,747.

All options included housing women and juveniles.

Davis discussed the county’s option of leasing out any unused beds to other jails in need. Polk County currently houses overflow inmates and women and juveniles elsewhere, mainly in Transylvania County, at $40 per day per inmate.

Davis said the $7.9 million estimate has almost 15 percent contingency in two different line items which should go away as well as cost escalation so in his opinion the estimate is probably going to be the county’s highest cost for that facility.

Moseley representatives also mentioned staffing a new facility.

“Is it going to take probably more staff?” Davis said. “Probably so, but you’re going to be housing female and other inmates you are now paying others to house. Bringing them all back in house is going to save you tremendous money.”

In Moseley’s staffing estimates for a new jail, it is estimated it will cost another $387,985 in additional staffing needs per year.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he was talking to the county manager from Avery County a few months ago who said Polk doesn’t want to build a jail because of the costs. Gasperson said Avery County saved up money to build its jail.

“The one thing they hadn’t planned on was the staffing,” said Gasperson.

He asked where Polk’s funding is going to come from to build a new jail, asking if it would require a referendum.

County attorney Jana Berg said the county has options for funding a jail. She said if the county issues a bond it would require a referendum from voters and have to be approved by the N.C. Local Government Commission (LGC). Berg said the county could also self-finance by saving the money or the county could do installment financing, which would also require LGC approval.

County manager Marche Pittman mentioned that interest rates for financing are currently at 3-4 percent.

Commissioner Keith Holbert said he sees two options: either building a new jail or outsourcing and housing all inmates in other counties.

Davis did not recommend housing all inmates elsewhere. He said the average cost to house inmates elsewhere is likely $60 per inmate per day and he’s seen it as high as $75 per inmate per day. Davis also said the county sheriff has certain responsibilities, such as for a jail, civil processing and the courts, and the sheriff would still have the jail responsibilities even if Polk didn’t have its own jail.

Gasperson said Mitchell County has been transporting their inmates to McDowell County and that is working for them. He asked how many counties do that.

Davis said Gates County pays Chowan County to house its inmates so two counties that he knows of after Mitchell County’s Jail burnt. Davis said Mitchell County has asked Moseley about a new jail for them. Davis also said one of the things counties need to think about if they house all inmates outside the county is the fact that there will be deputies spending their time transporting inmates instead of patrolling and protecting their own county.

Pittman asked Moseley representatives if there is any county breaking even running a jail even if they house other inmates for revenue. Davis said none. Pittman said he just wants to make it clear that Polk is not going to make money or even break even operating a jail even if they house other inmates.

“We never recommend building any beds more than what you will need,” said Davis. “In the interim, you can lease those beds out until you need them.”

Holbert asked if maybe Polk should be looking out further than the 20 years Moseley predicted. Davis said the further it goes out the cloudier it gets. He mentioned a new law in North Carolina recently that made a huge impact on county jails where misdemeanor inmates can no longer stay in the state prison system.

“Used to, if someone was convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to more than 90 days they could go to a state prison,” said Davis. “This year they passed that no misdemeanor goes to prison anymore. So it doesn’t matter if they are sentenced to 90 days or two years, they’re yours.”

Commissioner chair Tom Pack said he thinks Polk should go with Moseley’s option 3A, with a larger amount of beds, suggesting 80 beds. He said he’d hate to go with 3B with a smaller amount of beds, and then another board down the road would have to build on.

Holbert said he agrees with 3A, but wants to look 30 years down the road. Davis said he doesn’t see the number of bed needs changing drastically from 20-30 years given Polk’s small population growth over the past several years.

In speaking of going with 80 beds instead of 74 beds, Davis said the estimates on Polk’s new facility include square footage enough for there to be two bunks in each unit so the numbers could be double if Polk chose.

“All you need to do is hang another bunk because the square footage is there,” said Davis.

Hopkins said for every eight inmates, a jail needs one shower.

Holbert said the county should go with option 3A and make sure every cell has the capacity for two inmates. Commissioner Michael Gage said he agreed with the 3A option with the increase in beds.

Holbert also asked if the drawings for the jail could support adding administrative offices next to it for the sheriff’s office.

Hopkins said that can be done by just tying the buildings together with a corridor.

“So our next move will be to hire an architect and start looking for property,” Pack said.

Gasperson said commissioners need to look at the money, see what kind of debt they may be heading into and the impacts on the budget. Gasperson said he’s not in favor of seeing a tax increase to fund a new jail.

“However, if there was a referendum and citizens voted to do this I’d be in favor,” said Gasperson.

Gasperson also said he’d like to see something that will serve the county for decades to come and wants to see more numbers. He said commissioners should take their time and make the right decision.

Holbert said he wants to hire Moseley as the architect.

Gage agreed.

“We all know the jail is dilapidated,” said Gage. “The can has been kicked down the road for years and it’s time for someone to pick it up and that’s us.”

Gasperson said far too often this board has made decisions without looking at the financials and the majority is shifting this decision onto future boards so he can’t vote in favor right now.

Commissioners approved hiring Moseley as the jail architect by a 4-1 vote with Gasperson against.


Future revenue potential for new Polk jail


Year    Polk beds needed   Beds to lease                        Total annual revenue

2020   58                               16                               $233,600

2025   59                               15                               $219,000

2030   60                               14                               $204,400

2035   60                               14                               $204,400

2040   61                               13                               $189,800


*Note: figures based on a 74-bed jail housing outside inmates at $40 per day.