Article published January 3, 1991
Dennis seeking a cheaper, downtown jail
Plans for a new county jail in north Spartanburg should be scrapped in favor of a less costly design downtown, the new Spartanburg County Council chairman suggests. Only minutes after officially taking office as chairman yesterday, David Dennis said he has asked architects to draw plans for a new 240-bed county jail that will cost less than $10 million - about one-third less than the price architects had placed on the project earlier.
But Dennis's predecessor, former Chairman Lach Hyatt, says jail experts already have found Dennis's idea unfeasible. Dennis had no authorization to reverse a plan already approved by the council, and the additional studies will only increase architects fees to the county, he said.
County Administrator Roland Windham, however, believes Dennis's request did not overstep his authority. Dennis is seeking additional information updating cost studies performed by the architects earlier, he explained. Windham said he supports the new studies, but acknowledges they will add to the fees paid to architects, who are paid on an hourly basis. He had no estimate on how much the new plans will cost. Architects and the county staff are proceeding with plans previously approved by the council, he said. The request for updated cost estimates does not conflict with those plans.
Dennis said the California Avenue site the council is considering will ultimately end up costing the county between $20 million and $25 million. "We can't afford it. We just don't have the money," he said. "I asked them to design a facility for less than $10 million."
Windham said a jail on the grounds of the County Courthouse could incorporate the existing 30-year-old county jail and temporary holding cells being built in a county-owned warehouse nearby. Those options, however, were considered too costly when first proposed.
Dennis would not say why he believed the downtown alternative would now be cheaper, but said standards and regulations concerning incarceration are changing. "There are a lot of alternatives to putting people in jail," he said.
Windham said costs have changed since the County Council opted for the California Avenue site over the downtown proposal. He agreed that the council should be given updated cost estimates, but he said he knows of no reason the downtown jail would now be cheaper.
Hyatt, who said he supported a downtown jail until two independent consultants determined it would be too costly to build and operate, said it would be "stupid" for the council to change its mind on the jail issue now. He said the council, including Dennis, had unanimously approved the California Avenue proposal. He added that a downtown jail would provide little room for expansion. It would be shortsighted for the county to spend money on a site that could not meet future needs.
Dennis said the full council will decide what proposal to pursue and should explore all options.