Hamilton County leaders seem to have found a compromise for expanding the county's correctional campus plan.
Earlier this year, the Hamilton County Commissioners put the project at the top of their priority list for capital expenses, but several members of the Hamilton County Council were hesitant to support a $12 million project to overhaul the county's jail facilities.
The initial proposal would have included adding a 20,800-square-foot jail facility with 120 additional beds, renovating the laundry area and dining hall, and expanding the kitchen by about 6,000 feet.
The County Council discussed the project this month during budget hearings, and voted to support a short-term fix while fine-tuning a possible long-term plan.
The plan—one of three presented by Sheriff Mark Bowen—involves relocating juveniles to a different building on the campus so the current 107,485-square-foot juvenile center can be used for other purposes, possibly housing adult female inmates. The juvenile center opened in 2007 at a cost of $28 million but is lightly used.
The corrections campus also includes the old jail, which opened in 1977 and now serves as space for the county’s detectives; the community corrections facility, which opened in 2009 and has 160 beds; and the 123,460-square-foot jail and sheriff’s office that opened in 1993.
Bowen said the approved option would require hiring 14 new staff members, but it would save the county money it would have to spend to send juveniles to other facilities. He estimated the annual net cost would be $374,889.
The cost to convert the juvenile center for adult detention could be $1 million to $1.5 million.
The council voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal, with council member Steve Schwartz opposing it and suggesting they take more time to evaluate the other options.
“At the end of the day, I’m saying we need to slow down a little bit,” Schwartz said.
Council member James Dillon was not present.
Bowen is still asking for permission to expand the campus, but those details haven’t been finalized yet.
The jail has been operating above capacity for months. As of the end of August, the jail had 380 inmates even though it was only built to house 296.
Although the 120-bed building was initially proposed, Bowen told the council they would hit capacity again within five years, creating the need for more facilities. Bowen suggested constructing a 240-bed facility, but some council members are concerned about overbuilding.
“To move forward right away with 240 beds is not prudent in my opinion,” council member Fred Glynn said.
The council voted to allow Bowen to move forward with design plans for the expansion and return to the council before the end of the year with updated cost estimates.
Initial estimates showed that a 120-bed facility could cost $6 million to $6.4 million, and a 240-bed unit could cost $10.5 million to $10.9 million.