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Escambia County Commission Considers Possibilities For New Jail

Photo via Flickr//Andrew Bardwell

Meeting in committee, the Escambia County Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to instruct staff to gather information on awarding a contract to build a facility to replace both the Central Booking Unit and the Main Jail.

The booking facility sustained major damage in the April 30th explosion, which killed two inmates and injured 184 other inmates and staff. Inmates are now being held at the main jail, a work camp in Cantonment, and at lockups in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties.

“We’ve got to have a jail; we can’t send 700 inmates out forever in another county,” said Commissioner Wilson Robertson. “So, let’s step up to our responsibility.”

One question to be answered deals with repairing the damaged building, or starting from scratch at a new location – away from a flood-prone area.

David Wheeler, the county’s facilities director, sought guidence from the panel for one of two proposals: the first is a 697-bed replacement for the CBU only, built in 36 months and costing $77 million.

“We also talked about a replacement facility of 1,476 beds, which would replace Central Booking Detention and the main jail, which is 779 beds,” said Wheeler. “The estimate for the 1,476-bed facility was $171 million.”

That project – design build -- would be completed in about 39 months, after the acquisition of about 50 acres of property and re-zoning. Core functions in both -- kitchen, laundry, infirmary, administration and security -- would be designed to accommodate future expansions. Three of the commissioners favor design build: Robertson, Gene Valentino, and Grover Robinson.

“We’d be smart right now to combine the two facilities and do one facility, because we have to do one new one anyway” said Robinson. “The best thing that I see for us to do, is try to create a new facility that’s going to allow us to reduce our operations. We can take that operational money, and put it into programs to try to keep people out of crime.”

Commissioner Steven Berry and Chairman Lumon May voted against the proposal, taking a “wait and see” approach. May wants more input from staff before making a final decision.

“We don’t even have a location for ‘design build,’” said May. “This is not going to accelerate it at all. We don’t have the funding source, we don’t have the land. We still have unanswered questions that we should have resolution to, before we go forward.”

The Escambia County Commission is expected to take the information from staff, then set a date for accepting contractor bids – most likely around the first of November. The type of building, where to put it, how to pay for it, and future expansion – are other stories for another time.