LACONIA — A County Jail Planning Committee is looking at a proposed $2.5 million bond issue for installing temporary housing for inmates at the Belknap County Jail and the development of a schematic design for a new jail.
''We need to bite the bullet and get temporary housing next year. This needs to be done and done as soon as possible,'' said Alida Millham of Gilford, a former chairman of the Belknap County Delegation who came aboard only recently as a member of the committee.
She said that the overcrowded conditions at the jail and the cost of outsourcing prisoners to other facilities around the state made prompt action imperative.
Millham made the comments after nearly 90 minutes of discussion on the options before the committee Tuesday night and after Department of Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward said that he had obtained an estimate of a three-year lease of a 48-bed temporary facility for $1,787,000.
Architect Gary Goudreau said that utilities — water, sewer and power — would have to be connected to the temporary unit, which would also need security fencing, bringing the cost to around $2 million.
The other $500,000 of the bond issue would be used to have a schematic design done of the proposed 94,000 square foot facility the committee has been considering, a design which Goudreau said would provide the basis for cost estimates for the a new facility which would be based on an actual design which would factor in local construction costs, rather than costs designed on programs.
Ward said that the bottom line for the facility proposed by the Ricci Greene consulting firm is actually $37 million, not the much touted $42 million which has been used for months, and County Commissioner Ed Philpot said that he was hoping value engineering based on a schematic design could sharply reduce that cost.
Goudreau said that it is his considered opinion is that any attempt to come up with a program of renovations and additions to the current facility should see only the 1988 addition used and all of the rest of the current building demolished.
''Putting money into rehabbing anything other than the 1988 addition doesn't make sense,'' said Goudreau, who pointed out that the exterior envelope of the current building is cracking and that there is a long list of building defects.
He said that even if the 1988 addition is used it would still need and 4,000 square foot addition to provide the 17,500 square feet of space needed for the community justice program.
Hunter Taylor of Alton, a new member of the committee whose wife was recently named a member of the Gunstock Area Commission, said that he was concerned that the committee was hung up on achieving a goal which didn't command enough community support to pass the County Delegation.
He suggested bringing in a plan with a $15 million price tag which would be capable of winning support to get something done.
''Once the camel's nose is under the tent more things can happen,'' said Taylor, who said that unless something was done to improve the facility ''you can bet a federal judge in Concord will tell us. That's where we will ultimately go.''
But Philpot questioned whether it was wise to put that much money into a project and not do it good enough so that it would have a long, useful life and meet future needs.
Commission Chairman John Thomas said that low-balling the costs would leave the county in the same situation that it is in today and cut out needed programs.
''One of the reasons Steve (fellow Commissioner Steve Nedeau, who like Thomas has a law enforcement background) and I are so strong for this project is that he and I are tired of seeing the grandchildren of the same people we used to lock up being brought in here,'' said Thomas.
The current facility has a capacity of 120 inmates but has had as many as 151 on some days in recent months.
''We're bursting at the seams. We need the space and we need the mental health and substance abuse programs.'' said Ward.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that if the county sticks with the current facility is faces other major costs, including as much as $1 million for new HVAC system for the jail, where ''no air is moving and mold is growing.''
Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that the costs of transporting prisoners around the state was becoming a major burden for the Sheriff's Department and that since mid-July he has already spent an additional $12,000 in salary, put 8,000 miles on the fleet, and incurred $3,000 in additional fuel costs.
''It's just going to get worse. The wheels are going to being coming off our cars and we're going to be exceeding our overtime and auto fleet budgets,'' said Wiggin.