August 5, 2015 Edition

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Firm selected for new county jail

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

A special Lawrence County Quorum Court meeting was called Thursday to select an architecture firm for the new county jail project.

In a 6-3 vote, justices selected the SouthBuild Team to draw up the plans for the jail.

County Judge Dale Freeman said a final extension has been given until Oct. 1 to develop a satisfactory plan that includes location, size, cost and funding.

The jail standards committee recently did a walkthrough of the current jail and said there just isn't a way to save it.

"We've polished all we can polish," Sheriff Jeff Yates said, "It's time to do something."

Justices discussed keeping the administration, such as the sheriff's office, in the courthouse to save money on the new building. The original cost estimates were as much as $10 million, but justices have tried to find ways to cut costs. Even so, justices are still looking at having to pass a new sales tax to build the complex.

Michael McBryde with Stephens, Inc., a financial advisement firm, out of Jonesboro, presented a general idea of interest rates and yearly revenue for a half-cent tax.

He said the justices would have to decide the amount that makes the most sense for the county. A higher tax would allow the project to be paid off faster and a lower tax would require the tax to remain in place for a longer period.

"Is it less tax that's important or is it getting it paid off that's important?" McBryde said.

One thing that Yates said cannot be sacrificed in the new jail is the number of beds. He said he wouldn't build one with less than 100 beds, and he expects that will only be adequate for another five years. Justices agreed the most important thing to consider was expandability.

SouthBuild specifically focuses on justice complexes. Justice Jim Jones called the vote to select them to draw up the plan. The vote was 6-3 with justices Doug Wayland, Lloyd Clark and Junior Briner as the dissenting voters.

HMN Architects, Inc., the jail committee's recommendation presented at the February meeting, was mentioned. Wayland, who served on the committee, said they spent months to decide on their recommendation, which he felt was ignored.

However, justices quickly moved past any disagreement on the firm chosen and began discussion on developing a plan with the SouthBuild Team.

Yates will meet with the firm to discuss estimated costs for different sized facilities. More information will be presented at the next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 10.

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