County hires architect to deal with moldy jail

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Austin County commissioners agreed last week to hire Burns Architecture LLC to facilitate necessary repairs to the county jail and sheriff’s office, which have been plagued with mold.

Architect Kenny Burns did not have a dollar figure during the discussion at a special meeting Sept. 26, but said he’s “not into the open-ended check deal” and should have a preliminary cost estimate within 30 days, contingent on a meeting with the Texas Jail Commission.

“We will never go beyond what you authorize us to do,” Burns told the commission. “You don’t owe me any money unless you authorize it.”

The vote to proceed was unanimous, but Commissioner Doug King was not present.

The original jail and sheriff’s office was dedicated in 1981 and the presence of mold was detected in April 2017. Since the mold conditions were identified, jailers have been doing booking, photographs and intake from a temporary trailer on site in Bellville, and transporting inmates to Fort Bend County at a cost of $55 per head per day.

According to Burns’ report, it would take more than two years to design and construct a new facility. A 96-bed jail and sheriff’s office would cost about $19 million to $21 million, while a 144-bed jail and sheriff’s office would cost up to $24 million.

“A new facility can be designed for a longer lifetime with well-planned, efficient expansion capabilities,” the report states.

Commissioners appeared anxious to move forward with a cost-effective solution and want to utilize a newer addition, which does not contain mold and was built in 2011, to house either the male population or female population in the interim while decisions are made about how to proceed.

“If we keep the inmates out of the jail for six months, it’s $400,000, and that fixes nothing,” County Judge Tim Lapham said.  “Our first step is to get the inmates back in here. How do we move forward with that?”

There was extensive discussion on repairing the leaky roof, where mold appears to be seeping in, but Lapham, Sheriff Jack Brandes and commissioners have said they’re not interested in a patch job that will take at least six to eight months and not necessarily fix the problem for the long term.

“We’ve patched it up once and that came back to haunt us,” Commissioner Mark Lamp said. “Now we either need to fix it or do away with it.”

Burns, the architect, suggested that the Commission establish a prioritization of what they want to do, and the architects can respond with specific information on their fees, engineers’ fees and construction timelines.

“We have to move forward,” Sheriff Brandes said prior to the Sept. 26 meeting. “No more patching. I have to protect taxpayer dollars. Whatever we spend, it has to be done right.”

Stay tuned to sealynews.com and The Sealy News Facebook page for the latest developments from Austin County Commissioners Court. 

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