LACONIA — A $3.5 million bond issue which was discussed by the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee Tuesday night is seen by committee members as a bridge to get the county to a position where it can build a new correctional facility while dealing with crowding and the lack of program space at the current facility.
The bond issue would include a 48-bed temporary housing unit, which would cost $1,584,681 for a three-year contract; $500,000 for a schematic design for a new facility and $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail. Committee members believe that elements of the newly-installed HVAC system could be reused in construction of a new facility. The other $400,000 would be used for additional site work such as lights and fencing for the temporary facility.
Maggie Pritchard of Genesis Behavior Health, a member of the committee, said that the county needs to move ahead with the program in order to achieve compliance with corrections guidelines, meet safety standards and maintain programs.
''Until we take action we're liable to lawsuits. We should move ahead for a good reason: we need it and we need to provide jail services which are reasonable,'' said Pritchard.
“It gives us time,'' said Alida Millham of Gilford of the proposal. She is a former chairman of the Belknap County Convention who recently became a member of the committee and two weeks ago maintained that the county should act to put temporary housing in place next year.
Three Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention, Representatives David Huot of Laconia, Ian Raymond of Sanbornton and Lisa DiMartino of Gilford pressed the committee and its chairman, County Commissioner Ed Philot (D-Laconia) to develop firm information on a timeline for breaking ground for a new county correctional facility.
Philpot said that the next step for the committee, which he said has stepped back and refocused since it became apparent that a $42 million price tag for a new jail set by a New York consulting firm is out of the question, is to develop a schematic design based on the community corrections program which has been eyed as the model for a new facility.
''We're convinced that we can reduce that much further and do substantially better on the price,'' said Philpot, who said that at best it would be two to three years before the project is ready to break ground.
''What we know is that we can't continue to operate this way.''
Huot said that a plan with firm information and a timeline is needed ''the sooner the better'' and urged the committee and Belknap County Commissioners to to meet with the Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention to develop positive communication with the legislators who would be asked to vote for the plan.
''Lay it all out and see how much it costs,'' said Huot, who said that a forceful public presentation in order to gain support is needed and that should include highlighting current deficiencies in facilities and programs.
Philpot said the county has been reluctant to create a high profile on the current facility's problems due to concern that it will cause legal actions to be brought against the county, leading to having a federal judge in control.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Dan Ward said that there are currently 140 inmates in the facility, which is designed for 120, and that the 17 women inmates are housed in the gymnasium, which keeps that part of the facility from being used for recreation during the months when outside recreation is limited.
''We've been sending upwards of 30 people away (to facilities in other counties) during recent months. If we install a temporary facility we get all of the prisoners back and get the use of the gymnasium back as well as have some program space,'' Ward told the committee.
He said that the land where the temporary facility would be located is level and located just to the right of the current jail and that all power, water and sewer lines can be connected directly on site and no changes would be needed to the road which serves the jail.
Ward said that the 50 foot by 100 foot temporary unit provides both fixed cells as well as dorm space and is divided by a middle wall which would allow male and female prisoners to be housed on different sides of the same structure.
“We have 50 employees and 130 inmates and can't continue to operate the facility this way” said Ward.
He said that the county could be put in a position where it would need as many as four more temporary structures during construction of a facility if it involves extensive renovation or repairs of the current structure.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said that even if the temporary housing is acquired, it won't solve the structural problems with the current facility, which she said ''is rotting away.''
She said the new HVAC system is needed as soon as possible because ''no air is moving and mold is growing'' in the jail.
Shackett also questioned what the county would be getting that it already doesn't have if it spends $500,000 more on a schematic plan for the jail.
Architect Gary Goudreau, who worked on plans for the current jail four years ago and is a member of the jail committee, said that it will allow realistic cost estimates which are based on actual design rather than estimated program and jail spaces.
He said that architectural fees are generally about 8 percent of the entire cost of a building project, which would make it between $2 and $3 million for a $37 million facility and that schematic designs cost about 15 percent of the architectural fees, which would amount to around $475,000 for a schematic design.
''You'll still have the rest of the architectural fees to pay for a final design you can use for a bid document,'' said Goudreau.