SUMMERVILLE — Dorchester County leaders will go shopping for fabric in their search for a new jail.
The fabric is polyvinyl fluoride, maybe best recognized as that rubbery stuff on the inside of airplanes. It’s the coating that covers eight, 40-bed pods at the Mecklenburg County Jail in Charlotte, N.C. — tentlike structures that look like a cross between Quonset huts and circus big tops. The fabric jails are touted as cheaper and quicker to build than brick and mortar.
County Council members and others plan to tour that jail and non-jail structures like it in South Carolina on May 12.
“It’s pretty revolutionary. Compared to conventionally built buildings, it’s about half the cost,” said County Council Chairman Larry Hargett.
Of course, there’s the issue of security. The fabric can be cut, concedes Tray Thomason, Sprung Instant Structures regional sales manager. But it’s three layers, about a foot think. And it would be surrounded by fences with concertina wire.
“Should you escape (from the pod) you’re not just walking free,” he said. The company has built a number of jails, among buildings from gymnasiums to churches. Structures in Florida and Louisiana have withstood hurricane winds, he said. The advantages are that the jail can be built for 30-60 percent of the cost of a brick building, and built about that much quicker.
Dorchester County Sheriff L.C. Knight is willing to look, but he’s worried about the durability of a fabric jail over the long haul.
“It really doesn’t matter to me, if it will last,” he said.
The fabric jail joins leasing a jail and other options the council is considering to replace its worn out detention center. Council must finance a new jail estimated to cost anywhere from $20 million to more than $30 million. The county is maxed out in its ability to issue bonds and struggling to balance a shrinking budget.
The Dorchester County center occasionally holds more than 300 inmates in a facility built for half that number. The building is not up to code, has security problems and safety issues. The needs are critical, according to architects who recently reviewed the center.