Commissioners aim for jail reopening in April

GEORGETOWN – While the jail remains closed, the Brown County Commissioners announced they are prepared to accept a bid for a major overhaul of the jail doors from Willo Products, an Alabama based company.

“We have reviewed five proposals and the one proposal we have accepted is Willo Products,” Commissioner Barry Woodruff said. “They will have an engineering group here [Tuesday, Dec. 15] and begin final measurements and do all the things they need to do to get it back to their manufacturing plant. We’re hoping they will start shortly after the first of the year with a target date of a retrofitted jail door situation about April 1, 2016.”

With the Brown County Adult Detention Center currently closed, the Commissioners were forced to send inmates out of the county, to Butler County, at the cost of $117,000 for the the month of November.

The jail maintenance problem had been a long-standing issue in the county over the last 30 years. According to the Commissioners, parts became more and more difficult to get to replace and often times had to be fabricated in order to keep the jail doors closed and operational.

“This probably should have been done a number of years ago,” Woodruff said. “We should have closed it down and tried to retrofit back then. We have relined sewer lines under the jail after they collapsed. After that, we put in a new phone system and it got flooded. We have had nothing but a nightmare. We will probably spend over $300,000 this year not including the doors, to try to keep the thing going.”

However, a lack of communication from the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commissioners might be to blame for the escalated situation of maintaining the jail. Former Chief Deputy John Schadle sent the County Commissioners an estimate for cost of repair to the jail in order to get the doors functional in November 2013. The Commissioners requested more bids to come in and then later decide on who should be awarded the bid – no other bids were sought at that time.

“That estimate was looked at and got the message back that is not how you bid county work, you don’t go off one estimate,” Woodruff said. “We needed to get more and it never came. The other side of the coin is we’re the one who should be asking for the estimate not the Sheriff. So we continued with the same folks who had been working on these jail doors for 30 years, but the problem we ran into recently, we literally started had to manufacturing parts in a machine shop.”

However, the problem was not fully understood by the Commissioners because of the lack of communication between their office and the Sheriff’s Department. While the Sheriff’s office said the jail doors needed repaired, it was agreed the maintenance could be handled as it had been in the past. According to the Commissioners, they believed the best course of action was to continued to repair what was in place as it had been for 30 years. While it was known to the commissioners the jail was in need of repairs, a complete and total overhaul would have forced the jail’s closure and required the inmates to be transferred in order to get the necessary repairs done.

“We probably spent more than $80,000 on door repair this year, not including all the other things we have done,” Woodruff said. “We simply ran out of options and started the process of contacting other companies other than Willo and four of them literally came to the site and sent us a proposal.”

The decision to repair the jail had been made prior to the grievance filed by corrections officer Dana McGuffey on Oct. 22 about the problems with the jail door not functioning, either by coming unlocking or simply being about to open up. The grievance was the first form of communication ever sent to the Commissioners about the unsafe working conditions of the Brown County Adult Detention Center. It became apparent this year the course of action of repairing the jail doors could no longer be maintained.

“The blame stops right here,” Woodruff said. “We not sugar coating, were not blaming former commissioners, the blame me, I don’t have any problem with that. Once we realized we weren’t making any headway, we shut it down. That was the correct decision to make. When that young lady filed that grievance, we respect her opinion, we respect her position back there everyday. We instantly said to the Chief Deputy, what do we need to do to start the process to get them out of there.”

The Sheriff’s Department confirmed the Commissioners had brought in at least two of the companies who made bids on the work prior to Oct. 22 and ultimately the closure of the jail.

Even with repairs set to start on the jail after the first of the year, the bigger problem of not having a large enough space still looms of Brown County. The jail is equipped to handle 38 inmates and at any given time was housing 80 or more inmates. The Commissioners said even with the overhaul, inmates will still have to be held out of county to accommodate for space and need.

While the Brown County Adult Detention Center remains closed, the Commissioners hope for April reopening. the Brown County Adult Detention Center remains closed, the Commissioners hope for April reopening.

By Brian Durham

Reach Brian Durham at 937-378-6161 or on Twitter @brianD1738