Flagler County commissioners were so impressed by the virtual tour of the proposed new jail they got on Tuesday that at times they sounded as if they were gushing over a new summer house they would soon move into.
But looking at the drawings of what will be a 272-bed jail by 2015, on the same grounds occupied by the county jail today at the edge of Bunnell, there was no doubt that the county was preparing to build a forbidding, compact, brutally efficient new jail designed on the principles of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: a single central surveillance area will have the ability to see every segment of the jail at all times. The octagon-shaped concrete building will help reduce costs somewhat, and provide for two additional, similar “pods” in the second and third quarter of the 21st century.
Construction will start later this year. An exact cost has not been determined, but county and building officials now say that the project will likely cost less than the $20 million originally projected, with some recent design changes accounting for savings of close to $2 million.
The county is paying for the new jail with revenue from a half-cent sales tax the county commission imposed by super-majority in November 2012. That tax generates roughly $4 million, with about half going to county coffers. The rest is distributed among the county’s cities. City budgets are not contributing to the jail, though city residents obviously are, through their county taxes.
The site of the current jail complex, behind the sheriff’s office’s headquarters on Justice Lane, is compacted, with limited room for expansion and a canal that splits the property, so the designers had to work within those confines. Nevertheless, the site will be able to accommodate three massive “housing pods,” or jail wings, totaling close to 800 beds.
Don’t panic: the immediate plan is to build only that 272-bed wing that could accommodate the county’s jail needs for more than two decades. The 272 beds almost double the jail’s current capacity. That’s “what we’re doing now,” says Glenn Deaver, the project manager with the architectural firm hired for the job, Tallahassee-based CRA Architects.
The design provides for a “12-division housing pod.” In English, that means the jail wing can be subdivided into up to 12 autonomous sections. That’s critical with county jails these days because of the demands imposed on them. Jails must be able to accommodate a female population, they must separate inmates according to the severity of the crimes they’re charged with—felons in one section, misdemeanors in another. They must separate under-age inmates from the adult population, something the Flagler County jail has had a lot of trouble doing without improvising. Inmates accused of murder must be kept separate from other felons, and so on. The current jail does not enable that sort of segmentation.
The octagon-shaped jail will include two-man and 4-man cells, a control room at the center of the building with eyes on every segment, and outdoor recreation attached to two of the segments. A closed-circuit system will also enable video conferencing between the jail and the courthouse (that’s in place now). But unlike Volusia County, the Flagler jail will not have a replicated courtroom. Attorneys will be able to hold conferences with inmates in four spaces at the jail, as well as hold conferences by video from their offices.
“The original design we were talking about was rectangular, or a squarish kind of building,” Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre said. “This particular option which the architect presented to us saves land, because all those corners otherwise would have been inside the building there, you would have been heating and cooling them, it also provides better lines of sight from the control area to all of the edges.”
The new wing will cost between $9.2 and $11.4 million. But that’s only about half the project cost. The other half is the renovation and addition to the existing structure, and its conversion into administrative spaces.
Initially, the design foresaw a new building for the administration and a new jail wing. That new administrative building was going to comprise of nearly 39,000 square feet and cost up to $6.5 million. “That’s not what we ended up doing,” Deaver said. “We decided the best way to approach the project was to utilize the existing jail building instead of the new building. For this particular project, utilizing the existing building was cost-effective and provided segregation, and that’s because of the security issues associated with the jail. When we were building segregation areas brand new, those were high-dollar areas.” But those are already in place in the existing building. “So we decided to capitalize by utilizing the existing building with minimal renovation in the existing building, as far as the secure areas go, and that would give us a cost-effective solution. We think the savings—these are conceptual, square footage type estimates—but we’re thinking that we may have saved from $1.2 to $1.7 million.”
“What security does the county have that the change orders will be nil or at a minimum?” Asked Commission Chairman George Hanns. A change order is essentially a budget amendment from the developer or construction manager that requires an increase in spending for ostensibly unforeseen reasons. Government projects are notorious for their contractors’ facility with change orders, since contractors know that at that point, the client has little choice but to pay. “Seems like every project we get into, it no sooner gets going, and come in for a change order.”
“We are going to work out the problems now, before we start construction, before we go to the bid market,” Scott Brewer, the director of operations at Allstate Construction, said. While there is no guarantee against change orders, this is not CRA Architects’ first such project. In Florida, the firm was behind new jails or parts of jails in Polk, Baker, Pasco, Indian River, Escambia and Hillsborough County, and numerous other similar projects out of state. However, based on the company’s published portfolio, the Flagler project would be the first involving a one-level octagon. The company has built multi-level octagons in Georgia.
The project entails seven months to build the jail wing, and seven months to renovate the old jail into the administrative wing, for a total of 14 months.
That’s not all for law enforcement revamps in Flagler: in June, the county commission will hear similar plans for the proposed sheriff’s headquarters at the old Memorial Hospital site in Bunnell. “We’re all excited and we should be starting to piece it all together,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said.
“We’re not just here to fill these cells,” Manfre, the sheriff, said at the meeting’s conclusion. The county and the sheriff’s office have participated in at least one mental health diversionary program, which has been wildly successful, the pre-trail release program we worked on also will keep bodies out of this jail, and we have the private sector looking at prison diversion systems that will concentrate on both alcohol and drug addiction and potentially even domestic violence. So we have other arrows in our quiver that can keep this jail from being utilized even longer than the 25 years.”
“The other diversionary program is economic development and jobs,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said.