The Wood County Commissioners are being asked to take the handcuffs off an $18 million jail expansion and renovation.
The project was proceeding early last year when the pandemic hit, putting a hold on most county projects.
“We were very close a year ago,” said Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn in a presentation to the commissioners on Tuesday.
“I get it, no one wants to spend money on jails,” he said. “But it’s very important that we have a facility that we can have a clean, safe, healthy environment.”
He said there is still a need for additional female housing, more cells in general and the renovation of the booking/medical area.
“If anything, the needs from the mental health standpoint have increased,” Wasylyshyn said of the timetable.
He gave an example of an inmate who had been at the jail for weeks, waiting for a psychiatric bed to open. When it was available, he was transported there, Wasylyshyn said.
“They called us 12 hours later and said ‘this person is too violent for our mental hospital, come take him back to your jail,’” he said. “It’s very difficult on our staff. We’re not set up to have someone with serious psychiatric issues 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The proposed renovation and expansion would provide more secure cells to hold inmates. It would also have new female housing.
The expansion would be south of the current facility, which is on East Gypsy Lane Road, toward U.S. 6.
The total population of the jail has decreased from an average of 170 to 125, mostly due to the pandemic. The jail capacity is 220, which includes 86 cells. The Wood County Jail is currently not accepting inmates from outside areas, Wasylyshyn said.
Capt. Rebecca McMonigal said don’t let the population numbers reflect on the jail’s needs.
“It may sound like we’re doing well, but we’re not, because we have more mental health inmates,” she said. “And we have the worst of the worst inmates, and those inmates require the most expensive real estate that we have in the jails, which is the cells.”
The renovation will double the number of secure beds.
In the booking area, there are currently five holding cells. With the renovation, they will have seven-10 including separate male and female bullpens.
There will also be dedicated holding cells for inmates heading to court and four additional medical cells.
Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said that the board will most likely act soon on the sheriff’s proposal.
“We have been tucking away money, knowing we would have to do some renovation,” Herringshaw said.
“We’ve been working on this since 2005, so I’m really excited that we’re hopefully getting closer,” Wasylyshyn said. “If you’re asking me if the need is still there today — absolutely. We would not be here if this wasn’t the right thing for the citizens.”
He said this addition would last 20 years or more, and no additional staff would be needed to operate it.
“The way this is designed, we will really be able to utilize a lot of beds better than what we’re utilizing them today,” he said.
Wasylyshyn said that no levy or tax increase is needed.
“We’re very fortunate, thanks to the commissioners and being conservative,” he said. “I know it’s a lot of money, but it’s the right thing that’s going to carry us out for many, many years to come to make it a safer and better facility.”
Last year at this time, Wachtel & McAnally, Newark, had been selected to design the jail expansion. Just a few weeks later, the pandemic hit, shutting down most projects.
A cost had not been determined yet for the architect fees.
Some of the previous estimated costs were $6.7 million for renovating the existing intake area into a medical office for $957,710, remodeling existing minimum security dorms to create a female housing area for $2.9 million, and building a new mechanical room for $425,600.