ERWIN — Unicoi County’s Emergency Communications District Board and the County Commission’s Building and Grounds Committee are studying ways to address flooding and leaking issues at the Unicoi County Jail that could result in the eventual relocation of the emergency dispatch center and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
Both entities met Tuesday to discuss to discuss the matter, complications and possible remedies. The jail’s water problem was first brought to the emergency communications district board’s attention by Sheriff Mike Hensley in September.
Hensley said the jail’s roof, which is located directly above the 911 dispatch center and sheriff’s department offices, is prone to leaking. Hensley also said inmates are causing flooding in the jail by stopping up drains and commodes, which causes water to find its way to the offices below.
Engineers from Tysinger, Hampton and Partners were brought in to assess the leaks. Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said Wednesday the engineers determined that, even if repaired, the jail’s roof would last only about five more years.
Lynch also said Tysinger, Hampton and Partners called in representatives from Spirit Architecture, which visited the jail in late September and submitted a letter of their findings to Lynch’s office. The letter said the flooding could create an unsafe environment.
“Regarding the situation, placing jail cells over office space is not a desirable planning practice due to issues that can be caused by flooding — accidental or otherwise,” Spirit Architecture’s letter states. “Secondary issues with mold, mildew and bacteria can also develop — in fact, (issues are) almost impossible to avoid over a long period of time when unwanted moisture is present.”
Spirit Architecture also recommended “functional planning” be conducted to identify how to relocate the 911 and sheriff’s department office at the least long-term cost.
“If possible, I would recommend the county relocate these office functions and convert this space to jail use or general storage,” the letter said. “Trying to prevent moisture from penetrating from above will become a never-ending task and cost.”
Complicating the matter is the state-mandated upgrade of 911 equipment the county must complete by July. Lynch said the emergency communications district board opted not to proceed with installation of the wiring necessary for the upgrade until it can get an estimate of the costs involved, as it does not want to gamble this amount in case the dispatch center must be relocated .
“They’re on the verge of installing a whole revamped system, which is several thousand dollars, and so they’re kind of looking at it from the aspect of ‘Should we do this if we think we’re going to have problems where we’re going to have to move?’ ” Lynch said.
The Building and Grounds Committee met afterward to discuss the flooding and leaking and look at its next steps. Lynch said the committee approved a measure to put out a request for proposal for an architect to conduct an environmental survey, as well as a feasibility study looking at repair of the jail roof versus relocation of the 911 center and sheriff’s department offices. Lynch said the committee also wants to explore avenues to take care of the water problems in the short-term.
Lynch said the committee’s recommendation also will be up for discussion at Monday’s County Commission meeting.
“This thing could take up to six or seven weeks to complete and get the results back, but one thing that’ll happen, we’re probably going to have to move quickly because we pretty well have to have 911 where it’s going to be by July,” Lynch said.