Jail planning committee decides to keep powder dry until June 9

LACONIA — The Belknap County Jail Planing Committee will wait until a scheduled June 9 meeting with the Belknap County Convention before placing its plan for spending $2.96 million on improvements, planning and a temporary facility for housing prisoners before lawmakers.
The committee made the decision when it met Tuesday at the Belknap County Complex after Jail Planning Committee chairman Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) asked if the committee should have members attend a May 27 meeting of the convention at which it will discuss the county jail and speak during the public input portion of the meeting.
County Administrator Debra Shackett, who had tried unsuccessfully to obtain a spot on the agenda of that meeting for the committee, said that the purpose of the meeting as explained to her by Convention Chair Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) was for input by the public and that there would be no spot on the agenda for the committee, although its members could have 15 to 20 minutes for a presentation during the public input session.
Shackett suggested that members of the committee could ''go and listen and then wait and respond at the scheduled June meeting'' and that the committee shouldn't make a presentation next week unless the convention specifically asked them to do so.
Two weeks ago the jail committee met and reached a consensus that it should bring its plan for a $2.96 million supplemental appropriation to the convention and have County Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward make the presentation.
The committee wants $360,000 so that it can begin work on a schematic design plan for a new jail, $1 million for replacing the HVAC system at the current jail and $1.6 million for a three-year contract for installation of a 48-bed temporary housing unit at the jail.
Because the supplemental appropriation will require a borrowing, which would also require a public hearing, a two-thirds vote of the convention would be needed for passage.
Architect Gary Goudreau told the committee two months ago that it would take 4-6 months to produce a schematic design, which committee members are hoping will produce major savings over the conceptual design estimate cost of $42.6 million received last year for a 94,000-square-foot, 180-bed facility. Philpot has said that approach could bring the cost estimate for a new facility to $30 million or less.
Committee members have supported the HVAC system replacement as necessary to make conditions at the current facility bearable for inmates and staff during the three years or more t will take before a new facility can be built and noted that many of the components of the upgraded system can be used in a new facility.
The committee last night also discussed cost comparisons with other recent jail projects in other counties in New Hampshire, including Grafton County, which Ward said had built a 90,000-square-foot, 150-bed jail which was completed in 2012 for $31.2 million. He said that Carroll County had built a 40,000-square-foot, 65 bed facility for $9.9 million in 2003.
Ward said that Cheshire County didn't give him an overall number for its jail project several years ago but told him that for every month the project was delayed it had cost the county an additional $100,000.
He also noted that Rockingham County is budgeting $1.3 million a year to house female inmates at other facilities.
Ward and Shackett pointed out that the temporary housing facility which is being requested isn't designed to significantly increase the capacity for housing prisoners but is needed to address the current overcrowding at the jail by freeing up the gymnasium and adding classroom space.
Currently if the jail population reaches 120 people inmates will have to be shipped out to other facilities. With the temporary housing that number would increase to 147 before prisoners were shipped out.
Ward said that the current staff would be adequate for a prison population of 147 and new employees would not be required, which addressed Commissioner Nedeau's concern of what would happen if a bond issue were passed and the commission was suddenly faced with a request for new corrections officers.
''They need to know that won't happen,'' said Shackett, referring to members of the county convention.