Originally created 09/22/99

Plans for detention center unveiled



Aiken County Council members got a first-hand look at plans for the long-awaited detention center Tuesday night.

The $14.8 million project, now under way on Wire Road, is expected to be completed by May 2001, about two months later than first estimated. But the delay is well worth it, contended William W. Cram, executive vice president of M.B. Kahn Construction Co., attributing the delay to the company's detailed planning to meet county and state specifications.

"We're spending a lot of time making sure it meets Aiken County's needs and we think the time spent now will pay off later in fewer changes in the specifications," Mr. Cram said.

He also argued that the cost of $30,000 per bed is about 15 percent below the national average. The design of the facility, according to Aiken County Administrator Bill Shepherd, makes it "the foremost county facility in the state."

But it has been a long time coming.

For a number of years, Aiken County has been under pressure by the state Department of Corrections to expand capacity at the current detention center, which has been consistently cited for overcrowded conditions. Originally designed to hold 117 inmates, the county jail now holds more than 225 prisoners, many for months while awaiting trial.

"A lot of people are sleeping on mattresses and bunkbeds," Mr. Shepherd said.

The building is designed in pods with add-on possibilities planned as the need arises. Initially, it will hold 255 inmates but with additions, it can be expanded to hold a population of 500. The single building is to be divided into four units for those detainees awaiting trial, one unit for inmates who have already received sentences, and another for those awaiting classification.

In addition, the facility will also house magistrate and circuit court offices for bond hearings and initial arraignments.

Site preparation for the building has already begun, Mr. Cram said. Grading and erosion control has already been completed and the building pad is in place. Construction is set to begin in late December or early January.

Even though Councilman Willar Hightower protested that he had not seen plans for the new Registration and Elections Building on Richland Avenue, he joined six other council members in voting to accept a $211,048 bid from Query-Pritchard Construction to do the job. Councilman Phil Napier voted no because, "I want it to go out for rebid." Council member Eddie Butler was absent.

The new elections office is to be constructed as an extension of the present building that now houses offices for the Department of Parks and Recreation and Veterans Affairs.

But plans for the renovation of the county council building on Richland Avenue hit a snag when the estimated cost of the building climbed from the $250,000 already appropriated by county council to more than $400,000. Council Chairman Ronnie Young advised Mr. Shepherd to separate the design contract from the construction contract and send it out to bid for a second time.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.