The Kent County Commissioners are exploring a plan to expand and upgrade the county detention center, at a potential cost of more than $20 million.
The detention center, which also houses the county sheriff’s office and the 911/Office of Emergency Services (OES) center, is more than 30 years old. At their August 6 meeting, the commissioners heard the results of a “public safety feasibility” study, conducted by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Pennsylvania. Architect Joe Crabtree gave the report, which suggested expanding the existing building on Flatland Road by some 17,000 square feet. The plans include a new 2-story building, across the existing parking lot from the existing one, for the sheriff’s office and 911/OES center, adding another 30,000 square feet. That makes for a total of about 47,000 additional square feet of new space between the two projects. In the site plan above, the white area is the current Kent County Detention Center; all the rest is the proposed extension and new two-story building.
Crabtree began by outlining the deficiencies each department is experiencing in the existing building, which opened in 1988. All three areas of the building, including the sheriff’s office, are not handicapped accessible, and all have issues with security, notably in the parking lot and the perimeter. The detention center lobby does not have a waiting area for visitors, and the kitchen, medical facilities, storage areas, and exercise yards are undersized or otherwise inadequate. In addition, the entire facility needs upgrades to comply with code; and the facilities for male and female inmates are not properly separated.
The report continued to say that the prisoner transfer facility is not sufficiently secure. The garage area, evidence preservation and records storage areas, and the office space are inadequate. The 911/OES offices, currently in the basement, have problems with lighting and ventilation, which leads to humidity and moisture problems that can affect the computer systems. And the facility is down steep stairs, which would become accessible only if an elevator were installed.
Crabtree showed plans to expand the existing facilities, adding some 4,000 square feet to inmate housing at the detention center, along with 2,800 square feet for central booking, 2,400 square feet for inmate support services and nearly 1,900 square feet for security operations. Other detention center facilities would also expand by smaller amounts for a total of about 17,000 square feet of building and an additional 4,000 square feet outdoors. In addition, some 19,000 square feet of the existing facility would be upgraded.
The sheriff’s office would add some 5,000 square feet for administrative offices, 3,000 square feet for building support, and another 2,600 for circulation and mechanical facilities, with a grand total of a little over 10,000 additional square feet added. The 911/OES center would add 2,500 square feet for emergency operations, 2,200 for circulation and mechanical equipment and 1,000 for administrative offices, with a total of nearly 9,000 square feet. All in all, the new building would total some 30,000 square feet for the two offices.
Neither the detention center nor the 911/OES center would need to increase staffing under the planned renovations, Crabtree said. In the sheriff’s office, the addition of a central booking facility would probably result in new positions based on operational needs. However, Sheriff John F. Price said the end result would be to free up deputies for police work, especially late at night when staff levels are lower. He said that bringing in a prisoner could take a deputy off the road for as much as four hours.
Price also noted that under the current system there is an officer safety issue when a lone deputy has to bring in and process a prisoner who could become violent. “I think it’s a good proposal,” he said of the architect’s plans, and he expressed hope that it could be implemented “down the road,” if the budget allows it.
Warden Herbert Dennis said the lack of a proper waiting area for family members visiting inmates was a problem, exacerbated by the facility’s poor accessibility for the handicapped. He said the proposed upgrades to the center include a gym, along with improved security for the outdoor exercise areas. He said that some facilities elsewhere have had problems with drones dropping contraband into outdoor areas where prisoners exercise, though that has not so far happened locally.
Wayne Darrell, head of Emergency Management Services, said the planned renovations would allow the department to close its satellite facility in Lynch and consolidate its operations under one roof. He said the main facility is overdue for replacement flooring and new furniture.
Estimated costs for the expansion and upgrades would come to between $9.5 million and $11.5 million for the detention center. However, these costs could be offset by between $5.5 million and $7 million in state reimbursements. For the new sheriff’s office and 911/OES center building, construction costs would be approximately $14 million to $16.5 million. This would bring the total cost to the project, after reimbursements, to $19.9 million to $23.6 million.
Commission President Thomas Mason asked if state funding would be available to offset the costs of expanding the sheriff’s office. Price said there had been a good deal of funding available shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but “there’s not a lot now, as far as I know.” Darrell said that his department also used to get federal funding, but that it had dried up in recent years.
Commissioner Ron Fithian said the commissioners need to study the proposal and discuss it in detail before making any decisions how to proceed.
A summary of the architect’s report is accessible from the meeting agenda posted on the Kent County website. Click on “Public Safety Facility Feasibility Study Presentation” to download the report.