County proceeds with jail remodel

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Acknowledging that the process will be slow and expensive, Austin County commissioners moved forward Monday with plans to remediate mold in the jail.

The panel voted to authorize Burns Architecture LLC to “prepare and issue a request for proposals as required by the construction manager at risk construction delivery method using a one-step method.”

The group hired architect Kenny Burns last month to work with the Texas Jail Commission and create a plan to remediate mold which was identified in the jail earlier this year. Once detected, Sheriff Jack Brandes opted to transport inmates to Fort Bend County at a cost of $55 per head per day. Jailers have been doing intake and booking from a temporary trailer at the county complex in Bellville.

Burns reported Monday that he met with the jail commission last week to share his ideas on the most efficient way to remediate mold and get inmates back in the local jail as quickly as possible.

“They were receptive to it,” Burns said. “They told me, as long as we build a secure wall and as long as we get everything cleaned up … we can bring back as many inmates as possible, with the exception of females. We’ve got their blessing; they understand and are very receptive to what’s going on.”

Burns presented a diagram showing his plans for two separate areas of the jail – designated as red and blue. Commissioners have said it costs the county about $400,000 to transport inmates for a six-month period. Burns confirmed Monday that they should be able to house local inmates in one specific area of the jail by January. 

Burns added that he’s had difficulty getting a response from the consultant that he’s reached out to for mold remediation.

“I need their help to rewrite the protocol so it’s based on the two areas,” he said. “It should be simple, but I just can’t get ahold of them.”

Commissioners discussed the possibility of switching gears and working with a different consultant, but Burns said he would make one more attempt.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “If they have to rewrite the protocol, it’s just a little bit of their time. If we bring someone else in, they’re going to want to do their own testing. We’re going to lose a lot of time … Time’s ticking away.”

The next scheduled meeting of Austin County Commissioners Court is Oct. 23.

According to Burns’ report issued in September, 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.

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