CHESTER -- Chester County Sheriff Robby Benson claims the cost of building a jail can be "way below" the $20 million figure quoted by County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey last week.
Benson provided The Herald on Tuesday with prices of other detention center projects in the Carolinas. He requested the rates from the Charlotte architectural firm Moseley Architects, the same company that designed the York County prison, which is under construction and projected to be finished by October.
None of the facilities was projected to cost $20 million. Some rates were for jail expansions, and others were for new facilities. The lowest price tag for a new jail was $8.9 million, and the highest was $16.8 million.
The debate over jail prices emerged after The Herald reported that county leaders plan to upgrade the Chester County Detention Center so state officials won't shut down the facility, which has failed state inspections for 17 consecutive years.
State officials have given the county a deadline of August 2009 to upgrade the jail or they will shut down the facility, meaning the county must pay to transport inmates to jails in other counties and house them there.
Roddey said last week that the state's deadline was December 2009, but he since admitted that he "misspoke" about that date.
To pay for the jail upgrades, county leaders plan to place a 1-cent sales tax proposal on the ballot in November. If voters approve the tax increase, the hike is expected to generate about $2 million per year for seven years.
Benson said the facility can't be upgraded to meet state standards, but Roddey said the county can't afford a new jail, citing a $20 million cost.
On Tuesday, Roddey maintained that his research indicates that $20 million to $30 million is needed to pay for a new jail, although he said it's too early to tell.
"We don't know it till we go out for a bid," he said of the cost.
Despite his uncertainty, Roddey said Benson doesn't know the price, either.
"I don't know that, and he don't know that," he said. "He's trying to jump a bunch of stumps. You can't jump stumps until it's time."
The prices Benson received from Moseley show five detention center designs the company developed.
One design was for a new $8.9 million sheriff's office and detention center in Sampson County, N.C., with 65,000 square feet of space and 250 beds. The numbers reflect the projected cost, not the final price.
The Chester County Sheriff's Office and jail are about 22,000 square feet combined. The jail has 150 beds.
Although they disagree about how to solve the problem, Benson and Roddey agree that something must be done.
The facility has gaping holes in the ceiling and lacks a mandatory sprinkler system. The sewer and electrical work must be upgraded. Because the jail doesn't have enough filing space, the jail administrator created a makeshift records room in the trailer of an old 18-wheeler behind the Sheriff's Office.
The need for a sprinkler system was noted in last week's inspection report from state fire marshal's office. The jail also needs some emergency lighting outside exterior doors and must replace a fire extinguisher, the report stated.
Benson said these problems and other issues highlight the need for a new jail. Although Roddey doesn't think that's a likely outcome, he hopes Benson's prices are right.
"That's great," Roddey said. "If we can build a jail for what he's thinking, I'm all for it."