County Commission assesses maintenance expenses in context of cost of a new detention center
Sarasota County’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) lacks approximately $4.4 million for projects needed in fiscal years 2020 through 2024 to maintain the Sarasota County Jail in an acceptable condition, the County Commission has learned.
To put that in context, Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, pointed out during the board’s March 29 budget workshop, a new jail has been estimated to cost between $70 million and $120 million.
The maintenance expense, he added, “clearly is less than the replacement.”
About $2 million of the $4.4 million should be allocated to work in the 2020 fiscal year, he indicated.
Following recent updates from Sheriff Tom Knight about continuing overcrowding of the jail, Commissioner Michael Moran had requested that county staff research and report on the ongoing upkeep within the three facilities that comprise the detention center in downtown Sarasota. Lowdermilk’s March 29 presentation came in response to that request.
In May, the commission is expected to take more time in its annual review of the CIP. During the March budget workshop, commissioners voiced their intent to make water quality initiatives a higher priority, for example.
The CIP covers five years, but staff has pointed out that, with passage of the county budget for each fiscal year, only the first year’s projects receive formal approval.
The first slide Lowdermilk showed the board on March 29 provided graphics related to the number of work orders for the jail over the past five fiscal years, starting in 2014. Most of the maintenance, Lowdermilk explained, entails routine work orders or small projects. However, he said, a 17% spike in jail initiatives was noted from the 2017 fiscal year to the 2018 fiscal year. (The latter ended on Sept. 30, 2018.) The trend thus far in FY19, he continued, “is back down.”
The jail’s footprint represents about 10% of the county’s building portfolio, which has 417 facilities, Lowdermilk pointed out, “and [the jail] does consume about 13% of our labor.” Yet, he told the board, “I don’t think that is grossly significant.”
The total number of work orders in the 2018 fiscal year was approximately 2,400, he said, out of 18,000 jobs countywide.
“Actually, I thought that was fairly low,” Chair Charles Hines said of the jail figure. “I was happy to hear that number.”
Nonetheless, Hines continued, “If the [air conditioning] goes out [in the jail] now, you got to fix it today. If not, you have riots. If the A/C goes out in a library, that’s an inconvenience.”
Lowdermilk responded that staff makes jail projects a priority.
Commissioner Nancy Detert asked whether “the users” are the primary reason for the higher number of jail-related work orders. The detention center, she pointed out, “is over-populated, and the type of population that’s there is a destructive one, I’m sure,” compared to patrons of the county’s libraries, for example.
“That is correct,” Lowdermilk replied.
Lowdermilk then noted a bar graph comparing the totals for three groups of work orders. The largest group entailed reactive or emergency maintenance efforts, he said, as well as issues related to inspections.
They are “very costly, too,” he added of those projects, compared to upkeep designed to prevent problems from occurring.
The smallest group of work orders, the slide showed, included those involving inexpensive capital projects and responses to “customer service requests.”
Among initiatives that lack funding in the 2020-2024 CIP, he continued, are the following: cell door rehabilitation; a smoke evacuation system in the West Wing; replacement of the main electrical distribution panels in the West and East wings; replacement of cast iron drainpipes in the West Wing; replacement of variable air valves in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in the East and West wings; and replacement of a generator — a project that also affects the Criminal Justice Center on Ringling Boulevard — in the East Wing.
Referring to the cast iron pipes, Lowdermilk said, “We’ve had some significant issues [with them],” especially at the end of 2018. “We certainly need to rehab all these lines.”
Among the projects for which funding has been provided this fiscal year are the following: replacement of the rooftop recreational areas in the East Detention Center; a new fire alarm system; new roofs; and exterior waterproofing and painting.
Rating the facilities
In 2008, Lowdermilk explained, a Facility Condition Index (FCI) was completed for each of the three detention facilities. (The West Wing dates to 1975; the East Wing, 1986; and the North Wing, 2002.)
That year, Lowdermilk continued, the replacement value of the entire complex was estimated at $71,600,624. The overall FCI for the facilities was Good, he said. For both the East and West wings, it was Fair; for the North Wing, Excellent.
When that study was going on, he noted, the assumption was that no more money would be spent on any of the facilities. “Of course, we’re never going to let that happen.”
The current FCI estimate for the overall complex is Good, he told the commissioners. Only the West Wing has a Fair rating, a slide showed.
“In our opinion,” Lowdermilk said, “we are keeping pace with the facility aging. Granted, it’s not perfect.”
If staff is able to pursue the necessary maintenance, he continued, he felt the FCI would remain acceptable.
However, he told the board, Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division personnel have other problems with which to contend that ultimately need addressing; those pertain to “operational adequacy.” Among them, Lowdermilk said, are line-of-sight issues.
(During a June 2016 tour of the Detention Center for members of the news media, Corrections officers showed the group cells in the West Wing, where their ability to see the interiors is limited. The officers explained that an inmate could do harm to himself or herself, for example, or stay out of sight in an effort to attack a deputy trying to enter a cell. Those oldest cells have only one means of ingress/egress, plus small windows.)
Yet, one important factor to consider in discussing an extensive renovation of the older facilities, Lowdermilk pointed out on March 29, is “Where would you put those inmates?”
During the June 2016 news media tour, Major Jeff Bell, then the chief of the Courts and Corrections Division, pointed to the same concern as he underscored problems with the oldest building in the Detention Center: “Even if you could refurbish the West Wing,” he said, the Sheriff’s Office has no place to move the inmates.