Article published March 17, 2007
Utah company thinks it can solve county's jail problem and save moneyROBERT W. DALTON, Staff Writer
Spartanburg County's Capital Improvement Plan includes a $33.5-million proposal to expand the jail and add 530 beds to ease overcrowding.
A Utah-based company says it can do much more for much less.
Sprung Instant Structures made a presentation to several members of Spartanburg County Council this past Monday. Trey Thomason, Sprung's regional sales manager in Atlanta, declined to talk specific figures, but said the company could provide an alternative at a fraction of the cost.
State Rep. Scott Talley -- whose father-in-law provides contacts for the company -- said Sprung could build facilities for an additional 800 beds at a cost of about $10 million.
"It's a no-frills, quick, low-cost-to-the-taxpayer remedy for part of the problem," said County Councilman Tom Foster, who along with Councilmen Dale Culbreth and O'Neal Mintz met with Thomason. "It's a tool we can give the sheriff and the solicitor to get some of the criminals off the street."
Sprung structures feature an aluminum shell covered by an "architectural membrane," according to the company's Web site. The company recently completed a facility for the Brevard County, Fla., jail. Its structures also are used for other facilities, including churches, casinos and golf club pro shops.
Seventh Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy, who several years ago chaired a committee that looked at how to alleviate jail overcrowding, said Sprung provides an attractive option.
"It's new and it's different," Gowdy said. "So was electricity at one time."
The jail currently has a capacity of 567, but is housing more than 900 prisoners. The $33.5-million brick-and-mortar expansion would bring the capacity to 966, but jail Director Larry Powers said that could be increased to about 1,300 with double-bunking and additional staff.
Powers said he's looked at Sprung structures and that they provide a fast, temporary solution. But he doesn't believe they have the durability of a traditional building.
"It will not last 25 years," Powers said. "Most places where they've put them don't have extreme temperature changes, and tree limbs blowing into them can damage them.
"It's a quick, easy alternative, but it comes at a price. It's not going to last forever."
County Administrator Glenn Breed also expressed concerns about maintaining the structures.
"They look durable, but I worry about the long-term maintenance costs," Breed said. "We need to look at the most cost effective way to house prisoners, but we also have to consider the long-term maintenance."
Thomason said that durability is not an issue. The buildings come with a 20-year warranty and have a life expectancy of about 25 years. After that, replacing the exterior cover extends the life for another 25 years, he said.
Gowdy said that the traditional expansion would only allow the county to catch up with its current needs. An alternative plan could give it capacity for the future.
"We've got to have a long-term solution that gives us the most amount of bed space at the most fiscally responsible rate so at least one generation can live without having to discuss expanding the jail," Gowdy said. "We were talking about overcrowding when I first took the oath of office and we'll be talking about it when I leave."
Sheriff Chuck Wright is scheduled to meet with Sprung representatives in April. Wright said he knew very little about the company and its structures, but that he's in favor of looking at lower-cost alternatives for housing prisoners.
"The quicker we get it done, the quicker I can start putting people in it," Wright said.
Foster said going with Sprung also could be a money-maker for the county. The Sprung structures would house non-violent, low-risk offenders, freeing up space in the main jail for the county to take in more federal prisoners, he said.
Powers said that's easier said than done. He said some of the low-risk inmates are women, and he has to house them separately from the men. Others could have medical problems, and the medical staff is at the main jail. Still others, he said, might be incarcerated for non-violent offenses, but that they don't "behave" when they come to jail.
"When you start breaking it down by different categories, people don't fit neatly into one of those tents," Powers said. "It's easy when you're not the manager, but when there's trouble or the lawsuits start, they're going to look at me."
Robert W. Dalton can be reached at 562-7274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.