Itawamba County officials plan to begin taking bids on construction of a new jail in October.

The county will seek bids on several variations of the project. The base bid will include the cost to construct a 21,750-square-foot, 104-bed jail. An alternate bid will include the cost to add a 6,740-square-foot sheriff’s department building. A second alternate will include the jail, the sheriff’s department and a 6,840-square-foot justice court building.

Bids will likely begin rolling in during the holiday season. If all goes well, construction on the jail should begin early next summer. The goal is to open the jail by spring 2021.

According to Itawamba County Board of Supervisors President Eric “Tiny” Hughes and county administrator Gary Franks, discussions of what elements to include in the new jail and related facilities have included representatives of the local sheriff’s department, justice court, 911 and coroner’s offices.

“Everybody’s had some input into this,” Franks told The Times last week. “That united everybody … put everybody on the same page.”

County officials are walking a tightrope between needs and cost. The estimated price tag of the project is $9-$12-million.

In order to limit expenses, county officials plan to bid out the project a la carte. First and foremost, the county needs a jail. Everything else falls into the category of “wants.”

“I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to build everything we need simply because of cost,” Franks said. “We don’t have to have [the sheriff’s department and justice court buildings].”

“We’d love to have them,” Hughes added. “And we need them, but we’ve got to do what we can afford to do … We know that we have to have a jail, and there aren’t a lot of corners you can cut on a jail.”

Franks and Hughes said county leaders and local law enforcement officials have worked backwards by designing a idealized version of the facility and scaling back to what they think is affordable.

Franks said they’d like to build the jail with only a minimum tax increase. Hughes said he’d like to build it with none at all.

The jail county leaders are planning to build has space for 104 beds but could be expanded to 154 beds if need be without any additional construction. They’d just add bunks and more personnel.

The main holding area of the jail will be built around a central tower so that a small number of jailers can watch the entire inmate population at one time. The jail will utilize a video conferencing system, limiting visitors’ access to inmates. It could allow inmates to receive court hearings without actually leaving the jail.

Hughes said he’d like to move the county’s 911 dispatch services to the new facility. 911 dispatch is currently located inside the sheriff’s department offices in downtown Fulton.

That project may be cost prohibitive, however. It would require moving expensive equipment and would likely mean significant upgrades to the aging system itself.

If county leaders decide to foot the bill to move it, emergency dispatch will be relocated to an isolated space within the jail, accessible only from an outside entrance. Hughes said the new space would be safer since the jail will be built to withstand heavy winds.

The new jail will be located on a 9.58-acre plot of county-owned land on Access Road in Fulton, located between Max Home and Ferguson Enterprises. If built, the new sheriff’s department offices and/or justice court building will be the face of the facility, with the fenced jail housed in a wholly separate adjacent building.

Itawamba County’s sheriff has been touting the need for a new jail since he came into office in 2008. The current jail, sandwiched between Fulton City Hall and the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library, is dated and slowly falling into disrepair. Portions of the jail are more than 70 years old. On multiple occasions, the sheriff has said he doesn’t believe the jail could pass federal inspection.

More pressingly, the building isn’t large enough to hold the county’s inmate population. The jail holds a maximum of 34 inmates; at any given time, the county has around 60 inmates. The overflow is housed inside the Tishomingo County Jail at a cost of $20 per inmate, per day. Until the new jail is complete, county taxpayers will continue spending nearly $20,000 a month, according to the sheriff’s estimates, to house inmates in Tishomingo County.

According to documents on Three Rivers Planning and Development District’s website, the county paid the Tishomingo County Sheriff’s Department approximately $155,000 during the last fiscal year for housing Itawamba County inmates.

Once the new jail is built, the city will be given ownership of the current jail.

adam.armour@journalinc.com Twitter: @admarmr

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