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Jail controls upgrade a top priority

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Tom Caldwell

Floyd County sheriff's chief deputy Tom Caldwell displays an artist's rendering of how a new medical pod at the jail would appear. Voters approved a $2.2 million renovation to the jail for more medical beds, not the larger project initially proposed. (Alan Riquelmy/

Editor's note: This story is from our Review and Forecast edition published on March 4. Click here to read an update to this story.

Thick, off-white blocks form the walls of the Floyd County Jail.

They twist maze-like through the building on New Calhoun Highway, making a puzzle for anyone unfamiliar with its design.

A laundromat sits behind one door. The kitchens are behind another. Stairs go up and down, leading to the different pods where inmates are housed.

No one can get far within the jail without reaching a door or gate that’s impassable. A nearby button for the intercom system is on the blank wall by many of these doors and gates. A deputy might push it for minutes as he or she waits for someone to answer.

Many of those intercom buttons are inoperable. No one is going to hear its buzz in a control room and open the gate with a flick of a switch. Deputies resort to their own walkie-talkies to communicate, slowing their progress with each gate they encounter.

The intercom system is one facet of the jail control systems that the special purpose, local option sales tax will upgrade. The electronic controls SPLOST project costs al-most $2 million. It includes replacing the existing door controls, 10 touch screen stations, an intercom and paging system, video management recording and an access control system.

The funds also will pay for outdoor perimeter lighting and a central elevator to replace one in need of extensive repair.

The jail controls project was part of the five-year, $65 million penny sales tax approved in November by voters. It will fund projects ranging from the jail controls to a new tennis center.

The SPLOST starts April 1.

The project is at the top of the County Commission’s priority list. Sheriff Tim Burkhalter told commissioners before November’s vote that he’d need the upgrades regardless of the SPLOST’s outcome. The SPLOST did pass, however, securing a victory by 84 votes.

The project was put out to bid, though the deadline has been pushed back several times. County officials delayed the deadline in early January after its consultant determined some potential bidders didn’t meet certain requirements.

The consultant found that some of the products weren’t interchangeable. If the county chose one of those vendors, it would be locked into it for the life of the new jail controls system.

That left about five system-installers and three parts-manufacturers in the running. Each installer will select one of the pre-qualified manufacturers to work with when they submit their bid.

The bid opening hasn’t occurred. Once a winning bidder is picked, commissioners would then vote on accepting the bid. If approved, county officials will begin the project’s review. That can take 30 to 45 days.

The project could begin by early March and be done by mid to late summer.

The jail controls project isn’t the only SPLOST project slated for the Floyd County Jail. Officials initially had a $5.6-million plan to build a separate medical wing. That was reduced to a $2.2-million renovation.

An existing block of the jail will be renovated, with at least 30 cells added. The jail’s existing medical area has five cells. Additional cells in the booking area are regularly used as medical cells as well.

The medical beds project can’t begin until the completion of the control systems’ project. The medical bed project won’t begin earlier than 2015, officials estimate.

Once complete, all inmates who are sick or require mental health treatment will be in the same area, near the medicines they need and the personnel who can help them.

SPLOST collections aren’t the only way jail officials fund their upgrades. Staff knew renovations were needed because of wear-and-tear on the facility. That led early last year to repairs performed by inmates.

Deputies relocated trusties — those who help with cleaning and washing dishes — to an older part of the jail, allowing the first phase of repairs to their previous quar-ters. Jail staff first evaluated what needed repairs and determined new plumbing and toilets were required. They also decided to repaint the walls.

An inmate crew of four to six with the necessary skills performed the renovations. Once everything was fixed, they sandblasted and then painted the walls.

The new fixtures are tougher than ones found in a home. That’s because some inmates will block their toilets, flooding their cells and damaging the facility.

The first phase of renovations finished in mid-August. Two weeks later inmates in another cell block were moved to the refurbished area, and deputies again began the process of determining what needed fixing for the second phase of renovations.

The second phase also was expected to take several months.

Each phase has an estimated cost of $25,000. The money comes from the jail maintenance fund and goes toward new toilets, sinks and light fixtures.

Officials intend to continue renovating more cell blocks, though their time frame is unknown.