Committee weighs options for jail renovation; $12m addition in the lead

Published 2:54 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

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A two-story extension off of the Beaufort County courthouse plus renovation to the jail is the jail committee’s leading option for its future, depending on available funding. At their next meeting on Sept 5, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners will review this option and others to determine how the county will proceed with updating the jail. 

The committee discussed four options on how to expand the Beaufort County Detention Center which is located in the basement of the county courthouse on West Second Street in Washington. 

The first option was to do nothing which received zero votes in favor from committee members. 

The second option was to build more cells in existing basement space used by the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds for storage. The second option also includes construction of a sally port which is a secured and enclosed entryway for a prison. The total cost for this option would have been an estimated $5,742,960. 

“Right now, the prisoners are unloaded almost in the parking lot and walked over,” Commissioner John Rebholz said, explaining why a sally port is needed. 

This option received zero votes in favor. 

The third option includes construction of a 6,259 sq. ft. single-story building behind the courthouse plus renovation of the jail. A new building would house the Magistrate’s Office, an area for medical treatment, a new intake area with five holding cells and a new visiting area. Renovation to current jail includes two new isolation cells. The total estimated cost of this option would be $9,584,280. 

This option received one vote in favor. 

Stemming out of the third option was an idea to construct an 18,777 sq. ft., two-story building, because it could offer more space for inmates with a mental health issue or drug issue. According to the Beaufort County Health Department over 70% of inmates have either a mental health or drug issue. The second floor could be used by the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds offices who would lose their storage space in the basement when the jail is renovated. The jail would still be renovated under this option. 

A second story building would add 20 new beds increasing the jail’s capacity from about 85 to 105 inmates. 

The total estimated cost of this option would be $12,019,980. 

This option received four votes in favor. 

The last option was to build an entirely new detention center. The proposed center would be 37,185 sq. ft. and is designed to hold 140 beds. Rebholz speculated the new center would have to be constructed near one of two industrial parks – Washington-Beaufort County Industrial Park in Washington and Beaufort County Industrial Park in Chocowinity. This project without construction of a new sheriff’s office would cost $22,440,000 including the price of land. Should a new sheriff’s office be included in the cost, then the facility would be 48,486 sq. ft. and the estimated cost would be $27,961,000. 

Commissioner Jerry Langley is in favor of constructing a new detention center off site from the courthouse. He believes a smaller building behind the courthouse is like putting a Band-Aid on a larger issue. 

“You’ve got to think long term sometimes instead of always these short term solutions to problems,” Langley said. “When that courthouse was first finished, by the time they finished it, it was already outdated. And we don’t need to continue on this same path.” 

Langley continued to say that he hopes to avoid people in the future questioning and doubting plans to build a new facility behind the courthouse. 

A benefit of building a detention center on a large piece of property rather than behind the courthouse is that there would be plenty of space for the center, for a sheriff’s office, for the Magistrate’s office, and for a 911 call center as well as having a more efficient process of separating male and female inmates. 

One person voted to have a new detention center behind the courthouse, but three people voted to build a new, remote detention center with a new sheriff’s office building. 

Money is what complicates three out of four options, because who pays for the expansion – either Beaufort County or funding from the North Carolina General Assembly – will determine how much work can be done. 

“Right now, we’ve got no pot of gold out there that the state legislatures decided to give us,” Rebholz said. “We’re kind of stuck with deciding whether – the option to do nothing is still on the table which means wait and see if something happens down the road.”

The consensus was that should the General Assembly vote to provide Beaufort County with funding for a new jail, then the idea of building a remote location would be explored; however, if the county has to pay for an expansion, then building a second story building would be a better option, because it is less expensive.