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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Seneca county Commissioners initiate addition to 60-bed jail

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - After nearly two years of stops and starts, the Seneca County commissioners have decided to build a 60-bed addition to the county jail, mostly to house federal immigration detainees.

The commissioners signed an agreement Monday with Poggemeyer Design Group to have the Bowling Green architectural firm design the 7,200-square-foot annex for 9 percent of the project's $1.31 million cost. Poggemeyer representatives will attend this morning's commissioners' meeting to discuss the design.

"We're finally moving ahead," Commissioner David Sauber said yesterday. "We're really excited."

County officials hope to seek construction bids in September and have the addition built by May, 2006.

Mr. Sauber said the project would allow the county to finally attain compliance with regulations of the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention. The current jail houses some inmates two to a cell, even though those units lack the required square footage for more than one person.

The expansion also means the county will continue housing detainees for the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At $55 per inmate per day, the arrangement has generated about $1.5 million for the county over the past two years. Much of that money will be used to build the addition.

"The really positive thing about it is, we're not borrowing any funds," Commissioner Ben Nutter said. "It's a way to maximize revenue for the county. We're always looking for ways, other than going to the taxpayer, to generate revenue."

The county began discussing a jail expansion in late 2003, but a series of procedural delays have beset the project. The commissioners initially sought a guaranteed number of inmates from federal officials, who were slow to respond to the county's requests and ultimately said no.

"There's no guarantees in life," said Mr. Sauber, a Republican. "But with President Bush being re-elected and his commitment to keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States, we feel confident that this is going to be a program that's going to last for years."

Original plans to build a metal, dome-shaped, vinyl-covered structure were scrapped in favor of a traditional "bricks and mortar" building. Last year, after then-Commissioners Tom Distel and Jimmie Young were defeated in primary elections, the board decided to put off a decision on the jail until their replacements took office in 2005.

Last month, at Sheriff Tom Steyer's urging, the county asked the state to permit the addition to house 60 inmates, up from a planned capacity of 48, to prevent overcrowding. The current jail's capacity is 112 inmates, but the population has been as high as 165 this year.

At the time, the commissioners said they couldn't afford to enlarge the addition to accommodate the extra beds.

The Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention has since granted a waiver allowing 60 beds without a larger facility. Once the jail annex's design is finalized, it will be forwarded to the state agency for approval.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.


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