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County staff says jail needs $8 million upgrade to last another 5 years

Friday, June 11, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

The Travis County Jail needs nearly $8 million in upgrades to extend its life for at least another five years, a county budget official told the Commissioners Court Thursday.


During a work session, Rodney Rhoades, executive manager for the Planning and Budget Office, recommended county commissioners approve $7.6 million for weatherization and air and water quality projects to be completed over three years.


The proposal could be presented for a vote as early as Tuesday.


Major Darren Long, the jail administrator, told the Commission his office is ready to move on the project.


“This is to extend the life of the Travis County Jail and keep it at minimum standards — both for jail standards and liabilities for the county, as far as adequately taking care of our inmates and staff that live and work there,” he said.


If approved, work at the facility would begin this fiscal year and carry into 2011 and 2012. The site, located downtown at San Antonio and 11th streets, houses about 400 inmates.


The county would draw from several sources to come up with the $7.56 million, including federal funding and savings realized on bonds issued for Building 12, an inmate-housing facility that opened in October at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle.


First-year work on the downtown jail would include a roof replacement and exterior improvements to reduce the amount of moisture seeping into the facility. Work in the following two years would focus on water and air quality projects.


Those are the most pressing needs, Long and Rhoades told the commissioners.


The jail, built in 1981, actually needs $29 million worth of renovations, as identified in a June 2009 report by VFA, Inc., a company that conducts building assessments. That amount of money would pay for work to extend the facility’s life by another 15 years, at least.


However, Rhoades told the Commission he recommends only the most crucial projects — those that would extend the jail’s “useful life” for another five to seven years — because planning for the county’s downtown campus is currently under way.


“That will give us time to complete the master planning process and determine the best use…for that building,” Rhoades said.


Long also made a pitch for security cameras at county jail facilities, including Central Booking, the downtown jail and the Del Valle complex. Additional cameras would provide greater coverage for monitoring inmate activity, but cameras are also needed to replace outdated ones that don’t work, he said.


The estimated cost is between $600,000 and $700,000, Long said. Rhoades said he expects to bring the camera proposal back to commissioners later this summer for a formal vote.

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