ERWIN — If the Unicoi County Commission accepts a recommendation approved Monday by the commission’s Building and Grounds Committee, the county’s Sheriff’s Department will be provided with the funding necessary to move its administrative offices from its current downtown location to the Unicoi County Jail Annex.
On Monday, the committee met and approved a motion to recommend the County Commission approve a budget amendment associated with the relocation costs.
Prior to the committee’s approval of the recommendation, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the urgency to relocate his department’s administrative offices, located directly beneath the Unicoi County Jail in downtown Erwin, recently increased.
Last week, officials within the sheriff’s department received information that weapons may be present in the jail and prohibited items may be present in the jail’s dining area, Hensley said Monday. The sheriff said two inmates also started a fire in the jail by shorting out electrical equipment.
Hensley said officials carried out a “shakedown” in the jail, which resulted in the removal of the prohibited items and charges being placed against the two inmates responsible for the fire. But Hensley said this “shakedown” also resulted in retaliatory actions by some of the jail’s other inmates.
“Of course, when we done that, we made everybody mad and they flooded the jail,” Hensley said. “The water came down. It was dripping on the computers. It was in there in (UCSD employee Joy Grindstaff’s) office. And when I say water, I’m not talking about clean water. I’m talking stuff that was in the commodes, the urinals. It was actually dropping down on the secretaries, and I immediately came over and told the mayor that we absolutely had to do something.”
Hensley said the problem of water leaking has been a problem for several months. The sheriff first addressed the issue at a September meeting of the county’s emergency communications district board, at which he said the problem of leaking water was two-fold. He said the jail’s roof is not only prone to leaking, but water finds its way to his department’s offices and the 911 dispatch center below due to inmates stopping up drains and commodes in the jail.
County officials have already looked at the possibility of using the front of the county-owned jail annex, located on Jackson-Love Highway, for the sheriff’s department’s offices. Hensley said he has also been advised that water leaking at the downtown jail will be an ongoing and costly problem that could result in health risks.
“I absolutely have to get them out of that mess over there,” Hensley said Monday.
Hensley said he has an estimate in hand of what it would cost to move his administrative offices, excluding the investigators’ offices, to the annex. He said the cost would be around $9,950, and work would include building a wall in the jail annex’s visitors area for office space, taking down a wall used by the probation department to create more office space and taking down a wall and bathroom within the annex to convert to a storage area. Hensley said items currently located in his department’s offices would be moved to the annex to save money.
“Right now, the main objective is to get Joy and the office staff moved out of there, and this will do it,” Hensley said. “This will also include my chief deputy. This will also include my administrative assistant and my office.”
However, Hensley said his department’s offices could not permanently relocate to the jail annex until the county’s emergency dispatch center is relocated there and sets up its National Crime Information Center system. Last month, the county’s Emergency Communications District Board approved a motion to relocate the dispatch center and equipment to a storage shed at the jail annex once renovations are complete.
Engineer Gary Tysinger, whose firm Tysinger, Hampton and Partners was hired by the county in January to look at the feasibility of moving the dispatch center and the sheriff’s department’s investigators’ offices to the jail annex, was present at Monday’s meeting to provide an update on this project and several others.
Tysinger said the shed’s floor would need to be raised to complete the 911 move and the shed would require a new roof. He said the estimate of work needed for the relocation of the 911 center and investigators’ office is around $370,000.
It will take three to four weeks to get the plans for this project together, Tysinger said. From there, they will be sent to the fire marshal and, once approved there, construction can begin.
Tysinger said replacement of the downtown jail’s roof could cost around $100,000 to $120,000. He said this work could begin anytime and would take about four weeks to complete.
“The problem with that roof is that it’s just worn out,” Tysinger said. “Patching it is hard sometimes because you can’t just go up there and put some tar out on that rubber.”