Article published December 13, 1988
Downtown jail site seen as too costly
Spartanburg County should build a new jail away from downtown Spartanburg but as close to the existing County Courthouse as economically practical. That's the recommendation a special jail and courthouse advisory committee is expected to present to the County Council after rejecting the option of a more expensive and harder to manage high-rise jail adjacent to the existing facility downtown.
The committee yesterday also approved a consultant's preliminary plans for renovating the courthouse, though Circuit Solicitor Holman Gossett continued to object to inadequate accommodations for a victims' waiting room and a solicitor's work area near the courtrooms.
Bruce Littlejohn, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice and chairman of the committee, said the panel was not charged with selecting a new jail site, but rather had been asked to recommend whether the county should look at building a high-rise jail downtown or a one- or two-story facility on a more rural site.
Selection of the site will be left to the County Council, but committee members suggested the new jail be as close to the courthouse as practical to reduce the cost and time of transporting inmates.
County Administrator Ken Westmoreland said the council would likely hire an architect from among 10 firms bidding for the work before selecting a location. The architect would help establish criteria for the site.
In its recommendation, the committee followed the advice of consultants Carter Goble Associates of Columbia. The nationally recognized justice facility planners recommended the county seek a 25-acre site outside the city on which to build a 330-bed jail. The jail could also be designed for easy expansion to accommodate the 600 inmates that projections show will be in county custody by the year 2010, the consultants said.
Don Dease, a state Department of Corrections official who serves on the advisory committee as a private citizen, said he compared the advantages and disadvantages of both proposals. The downtown site would be more convenient because of its proximity to the courthouse and its central location in the county, he said. However, the cost of constructing the high-rise jail is about $1 million more than the low-level facility. Also, a parking garage would be needed, Dease added. A larger staff would be needed to maintain security and operate the jail, and the reliance on elevators creates a number of procedural problems, he said.
Jail Director Larry Powers also discussed potential management problems of a multistory jail - which consultants said would have to be about eight stories high to meet the county's needs. He said emergencies requiring an evacuation, like a chemical accident on nearby rail lines, would be a logistical nightmare.
Dease said a low-level facility would be easier to manage, cheaper to construct, and better allow for expansion. Disadvantages to the rural facility would be the additional cost and inconvenience of transporting inmates from the jail to the courthouse, the additional cost of acquiring land and the potential for community objections.
Michael F. Thomas, director of justice planning for Carter Goble, said, "(In) just about every jurisdiction we work ... the same question comes up. And every single time, we've come up with the same conclusion. Where it has to be downtown, you just suck in your breath and do the best you can. But where it doesn't, the advantages just far outweigh the disadvantages," he said.
A second committee recommendation was to approve preliminary plans for courthouse renovations. Carter Goble developed a plan to allocate space in the courthouse among judicial and related agencies.