August 15, 2012Nearly two months after the ribbon-cutting for the new Guilford County jail in Greensboro, Guilford County Sherriff BJ Barnes has received approval from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners for over $700,000 worth of additions and renovations to the new facility, which has yet to house a single inmate.
The additions and renovations include escape-proofing windows in all four stairwells and installing paper pass-throughs in security windows in the police and magistrate processing areas. Barnes said that no firm date had been set yet but the facility may start housing inmates in as little as two weeks.
The commissioners approved the changes by a 10-to-1 vote, with Commissioner Bruce Davis casting the sole no vote, at their work session Thursday, August 9 in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House after Barnes, Sherriff's Department Major Debbie Montgomery and Sherriff's Department Capt. Kenny Watkins presented the list of work that needed to be done.
Commissioners Kay Cashion, Carolyn Coleman and Davis questioned why the board had not heard about the additions and renovations sooner and why change orders had not been issued during construction for what seemed like obvious problems.
Montgomery, who oversaw much of the construction, said she thought they were following "the process" by compiling a list to present to the board at the end of construction. Commissioner Paul Gibson, who headed the board's Jail Construction Advisory Committee, said he had been under the same impression.
When questioned about why she thought that was the process, Montgomery said that former Guilford County Property Manager David Grantham told those involved in the construction not to request change orders.
The necessity of one of the changes, to facilitate electronic recording in the police interrogation rooms, came to light more than a year ago when state law changed, mandating that felony interrogations be recorded for court proceedings. Other changes to the interview rooms involve demolishing brand new ceilings and replacing them with newer, more secure ceilings.
The most expensive recommendation on the list allocates roughly $250,000 for "security enhancements," which include adding mesh to prevent stairwell windows from being easily broken and security bars to cover vent grills. While Barnes said inmates trying to escape through the windows would likely be easy to catch due to fall related injuries, he said he didn't want them to get that far. Commissioner Billy Yow suggested that injured inmates might also sue the county.
The chairs and booths in the "video visitation" areas, where inmates will interact with visitors via cameras and monitors instead of through windows, will also be adjusted to prevent vandalism. Montgomery said that her staff was "unable to visualize the booths on paper," and now that they've been built she said she realizes they aren't mounted to the floor securely enough.
Commissioners Mikes Winstead and Yow came to the defense of "the process" that the Sheriff's Department had followed in compiling the list. Winstead called the jail construction "a success story," and said that in his experience as a contractor projects come back with much longer punch lists. "Its numbers are a lot better than mine," he said. He also said he fully expected another list of recommendations 30 to 60 days after the jail starts operating, as more areas for improvement become apparent.
Barnes, Montgomery and Watkins also gave commissioners an update on proposed renovations to the current jail and the possibility of Guilford County housing federal prisoners there for a profit. The suggested renovations for that facility total over $2.6 million.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston and Davis said that housing federal prisoners may not be a feasible way for the county to make money due to the associated operating costs.