Houston County reaches tentative agreement for expansion of jail

WARNER ROBINS – Houston County has reached a tentative agreement with Dublin Construction Co. to expand the county jail by 160 beds for a maximum cost of $7.5 million.

County commissioners must still formally approve the agreement at their March 17 meeting.

Commissioners last month chose Dublin Construction to serve as construction manager for the project and asked it to secure bids from subcontractors for the actual work and to compute a guaranteed maximum price for the project.

The tentative agreement announced Wednesday means Dublin Construction has agreed to guarantee that the project can be completed for the $7.5 million, and it will be responsible for any cost overruns, said Tommy Stalnaker, the county’s director of operations.

Two new pods, each with 80 beds, are to be added to the facility, which opened in 2003 and now can house up to 504 prisoners, said Chief Deputy Sheriff Billy Rape.

“We’re anxious to get going on this because we need the extra beds,” Rape said.

The expansion is needed because the county is now having to pay up to $100,000 a year to board between 35 to 80 prisoners a day in jails outside the county because of overcrowding at its facility.

“We built into our plans three years ago in formulating our 2006 (special purpose local option sales tax) to build one new pod to handle the anticipated prisoner population expansion,” Houston Commission Chairman Ned Sanders said. “But it is a problem that has manifested itself in the last six to nine months that we are having even more prisoners than we anticipated. Maybe it is this economy making the number of thefts go up, but we need more space to save that money we’re paying to board prisoners. So we accelerated our expansion plans and are happy to get going.”

Sanders said the $7.5 million is a good price for the work that will be done.

“In this case the economy is helping, because now it is a buyers’ market for construction. The builders need work, so we’re saving a lot on what this may have cost a year ago,” Sanders said.

Original plans, Stalnaker said, called for adding two 80-bed pods plus two 40-bed half pods. The smaller pods would have been used for prisoners with mental problems.

But the original estimated cost of $9.5 million was more than the county could afford, so the plans were scaled back to only add the two large pods. Kitchen, laundry and other facilities were built large enough when the jail was originally built to handle future expansions such as the one now being planned. Stalnaker said construction should begin by the end of the month, and the project should be completed by the end of this year or early 2010.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.