Study: Downtown Jail Site Would Be More Expensive, House Fewer Inmates

A representative from Mosley Architects presents the findings of a study on a proposed new Johnston County Jail to county commissioners on Monday. The report said a site outside of Downtown Smithfield would be more cost effective, could house more inmates and would be easier to expand. Photo

Johnston County Commissioners received a report Monday on the cost differences between constructing a new jail site in Downtown Smithfield versus a site outside of the downtown area.

Mosley Architects prepared the study on a proposed Public Safety Center Complex.  Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell is in need of a new jail to ease overcrowding.

$36 Million Versus $33.5 Million
A replacement jail at a remote site –  an undetermined site outside of the Downtown area – could be built on 15-20 acres and would likely be a single story facility. It would cost approximately $36 million, not including the cost of land. It would accommodate 400 prisoners with the facility being built to readily expand to 600 inmates.

A Downtown Smithfield jail site would cost $33.5 million but would only accommodate 300 prisoners.  It would require 100 prisoners to be housed in the existing jail facility inside the existing courthouse, requiring additional employees.  The current jail has beds for 191 prisoners. The remaining space for 91 prisoners would be converted into additional courtrooms, as proposed in the study.

A proposed downtown jail location would require the purchase of numerous residential and business properties between South Second and South Third Streets and between East Johnston and Church Streets to build a 300 space parking deck and then the jail. A downtown jail would also eliminate 150 parking spaces downtown.  The jail would be approximately 80 feet tall, about 20 feet higher than the existing courthouse.

It would also require the relocation of the Johnston County Board of Elections and Johnston County Grounds & Maintenance facilities.  The cost of the land acquisition and county office relocations is not included in the $33.5 million cost. Also not included is the cost of a park deck at an additional price of $7.7 million.

Construction would also take about a 12-15 months longer downtown due to the parking deck needing to be constructed first.

Downtown Site Less Suitable
The report said the remote site was more suitable to meet future growth of the jail, parking and a new standard of a 50 foot buffer around the jail itself. A 50 foot buffer would not be possible if the new jail were to be constructed downtown.

A new 300 bed downtown facility plus the 100 existing beds in the current jail would also be out of capacity by the year 2030.

As of today (Monday), a total of 315 inmates were in the custody of the Johnston County Sheriff. Even though the current jail is designed to only house 191 inmates, 259 were being held in Johnston County and 56 inmates at other jails in Wayne, Harnett and Sampson Counties.

The report said the County will need 337 bed spaces by 2020, 405 by 2030 and 477 by the year 2040.  Some believe the inmates numbers could be too low based on the rapid growth of the county.

A new jail will take 10 to 12 months to design, the report said, plus an additional 24 months to construct.

The County’s option on a tract of land on Buffalo Road near Booker Dairy Road for a proposed jail site expired July 31st.  The county is looking at other potential sites for a new jail but nothing has been announced publicly.

Public Hearing To Be Scheduled
After receiving the report today, Jeff Carver, Chairman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, called for a public hearing on a proposed new jail. A date for the hearing was not announced at Monday’s meeting but will likely take place at the board’s September or October monthly meeting to gather input.  Officials want to hear from the public before taking the next step of site selection.

Smithfield Town Council members Perry Harris and Steve Rabil attended the meeting and presentation as well as Town of Smithfield Public Information Officer Tim Kerigan.