Moving ahead
Jail expansion on course after struggles

CONYERS - Construction of the Rockdale County Jail expansion moves forward to a fall completion date, but many familiar with the project said the ability to get this far may be more satisfying than any ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"I joke when I say this, but I'm still bleeding from all of the cuts that's had to be made to keep it within budget," Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said. "In making those cuts, though, we've tried very hard to keep the infrastructure and square footage so that down the road we don't have spend to add cameras and bed space."

Voters approved a six-year special purpose local option sales tax in 2004 with $22.3 million to go toward the jail expansion. By that point, however, the county's designs were almost eight years old.

Inflation was factored into the plans before the referendum vote, but steel and concrete price increases were not expected. Even before the first shovel broke ground, the jail addition project was $5.5 million over budget.

The sheriff said a lot of work was done to rein in the cost of the project to bring it within budget before construction began last summer.

Early cuts included dropping the number of beds from 400 to 380 and hallways and extra rooms were taken out of the original plans. County maintenance workers and inmate labor were also used to defray costs. For example, inmates painted the interiors of the dormitory sections that will house minimum security, or nonviolent, inmates, which saved the county $36,000 in labor costs. The county Department of Public Works helped by relocating a sewer line on the work site.

The move from concrete to steel cells reduced the overall square footage and saved $150,000. Switching from preconstructed steel cells to those installed in panels and welded together saved another $50,000, said Michael Smith, general manager of Rockdale County's Office of Community and Capital Improvements.

Smith said plans are to add 16 beds for another cell block at a later date when funding becomes available.

"It's difficult any time you start that far over," Smith said. "Everyone involved in the design and construction has had to make tough decisions about what stays in and what gets cut out. Overall, though, I think the function and quality of the final product will be good."

Workers are now installing the maximum security steel cells, electrical and air conditioning systems and other fixtures. The jail addition is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 14.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.