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Barrow jail plans shrunk

WINDER - Rising costs have taken their first casualty at Barrow County's new jail and courthouse facility.

Originally slated for 166,000 square feet, the new complex off Pearl Pentecost Road has been shrunk to 110,000 square feet. The jail's 384 beds made it through reductions unscathed, but plans to consolidate the sheriff's administrative headquarters at the facility have been scrapped.

Keith Lee, the county's chief of operations, said construction costs have caused the county to tighten its plans in order to stay within their $46.4 million budget. Inflation is 1 percent a month, he said, and the county only has $1 million of breathing room for further increases, less than half of what it should have.

"The $46 million's not going as far as we hoped it would go," he said.

As a result, officials decided they needed to shrink the project. In addition to the sheriff's headquarters, which are currently housed in the courthouse's annex and spread between several other buildings, an octagonal pod design for prison cells became rectangular to save space, and other offices were eliminated.

Lee said he could not discuss where the Sheriff's Office would eventually be housed, but Chief Deputy Murray Kogod said the county intends the offices to be in one place.

"It would be most efficient to have all the offices in one location, but I understand certain financial restrictions, budget restrictions," he said. "Our primary focus is to reduce costs as much as possible and the housing of prisoners."

Preliminary sketches for the complex show it in the southwest corner of 155 acres the county owns on Pearl Pentecost Road so if the proposed West Winder Bypass needs to go through the property, it will not affect the jail facility.

The courthouse's front entrance would face Ga. Highway 211, while the jail would back up to Pearl Pentecost Road. The county's preferred plan has the building curved in the same direction as a small valley on the property, which Lee said would reduce the costs of moving land.

The courthouse is shown with five levels, including a bottom level that would serve as the jail's administrative offices. The jail and courthouse would be the same building, connected only at the bottom level, with secure elevators used to transport inmates for trials.

The project is already four months behind schedule, and is now set to be completed in July 2008. Lee said the complex is being designed with space for expansion, so that if more courtrooms or jail cells are needed, there will already be areas for them to be built. The county's animal control facility or other offices could also eventually be built on the land, he said, but not before another penny sales tax is approved.

"Eventually, the Sheriff's Office could be moved, but you wouldn't see it before the next SPLOST," he said. "There are greater needs in the county, and we need to use our money wisely. There are other improvements that have to be made."