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Architects question Nash jail plan

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NASHVILLE — An experienced architectural firm is calling into question recent decisions by the Nash County Board of Commissioners to renovate and expand the aging county jail versus building a new facility.

The board on March 11 approved two options put forward a week earlier by Charlotte-based Moseley Architects, meaning renovation of the detention center and construction of a 94-bed, one-story annex.

“We believe the Moseley report to be incomplete whether at the county’s direction or not,” Pennsylvania-based architecture and engineering firm L.R. Kimball states in its March 23 response to the county’s request for statements of qualifications for improvement of the Nash County Detention Facility.

The Moseley-recommended upgrades are meant to improve the safety and security of the jail, which had two escapes, multiple inmate-set fires and assaults in the last year.

Security and operations specialist David McRoberts and architect Csaba Balazs penned the Kimball response, which offered the firm’s help, but declined its services.

The firm served as architect for a 1993 expansion of the Nash jail. McRoberts and Balazs state the goal of that project was concentrated on “the now,” lowering construction costs at the expense of long-term solutions.

“In short, we believe that this same planning deficiency will reoccur with the implementation of the (Moseley) Phase 1 Recommendations and Improvements,” they wrote.

McRoberts and Balazs visited the jail in November and found it to be “among the two to three most deficient facilities we have visited since the late 1970s.”

The firm has been involved in more than 150 projects, including 75 completed jails, in 17 states including North Carolina.

“The existing Nash County facility layout is such a maze that in many instances, it was difficult to completely comprehend the scope, scale and adjacencies of the operational components of the detention facility,” McRoberts and Balazs state in the Kimball response.

The jail was built in 1979 and expanded in 1993 and 1999. The facility has a capacity of 258 beds but was limited to only 56 inmates after it failed a state inspection in December. The county and sheriff’s office recently completed work on a long list of maintenance and operational deficiencies, so state officials restored capacity to 172 inmates, according to previous news articles.

The National Institute of Corrections found the jail “lacks adequate space in many areas necessary to safely and efficiently carry out necessary jail operations. In addition, areas of the facility are outdated and worn to a point where they are no longer suitable for safe and reliable detention use.”

The NIC recommended a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a renovation and expansion is better than total replacement.

“This critical step ensuring long-term stewardship for this project, in our view, has not been done,” according to the Kimball response. “An often referenced NIC study has found that construction costs for a jail represent only 10% of costs over a 30-year life cycle. Of the balance of costs, staffing will vary between 60% and 70% over that period. It is, therefore, imperative that staffing costs also be considered in determining which of the options being considered is the most cost-effective.”

Kimball finds that Phase 1 and 2 options in the Moseley report are a continuation of a remote surveillance management model, which is the heart of the problem.

“The lack of opportunities for interactions between staff and inmates obviates the ability to proactively anticipate and diffuse events and negative institutional behavior,” McRoberts and Balazs state in the Kimball response.

The Moseley options will exacerbate the jail’s problems by just adding capacity. Grandfathering parts of the jail could lead to potential litigation over disparity of confinement conditions, according to the Kimball response.

“It is this disparity, deficiency or perceived indifference to these conditions of confinement that contributes directly to the resistive, aggressive and non-compliant institutional behavior by inmates that is so very dangerous and difficult for jail staff to manage,” the Kimball response states.

The board requested that Moseley evaluate the jail’s needs in November.

The Moseley report calculated that the detention center would need 403 beds by 2040 to meet operational classification and housing needs.

Renovating the jail and adding an annex will bring the total number of beds to 324.

The board didn’t act on the Moseley report’s third option to build an additional two-story, 209-bed building.

The Moseley report estimated the cost of renovating the jail would be $2.2 million, the 94-bed annex would cost a projected $7.75 million and the 209-bed third option would cost an estimated $31 million. The report states an all-new 400-bed jail would cost at least $50 million plus the price of land acquisition.

The board has adopted a resolution to borrow up to $10.5 million to pay for jail improvements.