The Dorchester County Council has decided to kick in an additional $5 million toward building a new jail, a project whose cost has risen from around $18 million to more than $23 million before the first brick is laid.
"Our concern had been making sure that we have funding to cover the cost of construction and also the cost for equipping the facility," said Dorchester County Administrator Jason Ward.
When planning for the project started in 2012, the building was estimated to cost about $14 million, but, since then, the economy has picked up, driving up material and labor costs, Ward said. The low bid for the building was $18.8 million.
"When we got an estimate back in April, it was above $18 million," Ward said, "so when the low bid came in at $18.8 million, it was not shocking."
Council has hired Moseley Architects to design the building, and voted unanimously last Monday to award the construction contract to the low bidder, H.G. Reynolds Co. of Aiken. The county already has spent about $1.4 million for the land and architectural services.
With a 22-month construction schedule, the center could be ready to house inmates by summer 2016.
"I'm kind of excited," said Sheriff L.C. Knight. "County Council worked hard to find the money and make this happen because it is a necessity. I hate that we've got to spend $23 million to build a detention facility, but I don't know how to get around it."
The current facility in St. George is overcrowded and lacks adequate facilities and utilities. It was built for 150 inmates, but often houses at least 100 more than that. Inmates often have to sleep on mattresses on the floor and at least three to a cell.
"That creates problems for us," Knight said. "It's a small area for a large quantity, and as humans will be, sometimes we don't like one another. Sometimes the closer you get, the more you dislike, and tempers get short, and it causes problems and puts our staff at risk. It was a problem even before I was elected (in 2008)."
Worried about potential lawsuits, Council made the project a priority in 2011.
It considered expanding the current facility, building a new center adjacent to the new courthouse and building a new facility between the courthouse and the Summerville area, where the county's population is centered.
Ultimately, council decided to build a new facility in an industrial area off Hodge Road, less than two miles from the county's current judicial complex, sheriff's office and jail annex.
The new facility will increase the jail size from 35,000 square feet to about 80,000.
It will have more than 350 beds, and the core areas, such as the intake area, kitchen, medical room and laundry, will be built to accommodate 500.
"We will have a space big enough that we can build another pod (of 50 beds) and we can already accommodate it," he said.
Charleston County completed a $100 million jail expansion in 2010, the same year Berkeley County completed a $10 million jail expansion. The additional $5 million approved last Monday will be repaid with a $4 million general obligation bond and a $1.4 million lease agreement.
Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.