The end is near.
And Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin — along with other members of city and county law enforcement agencies — is just fine with that.
But it’s likely Harbin will continue to house most Ellis County inmates in outlying jails a while longer, considering how much work remains to be done in the Ellis County Jail.
Exactly how much longer is uncertain, although Ellis County Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst — who also serves as construction manager — is hopeful police and sheriff officers and staff will be ready to open up the remodeled LEC about Feb. 15, if not earlier.
Right now, the jail has the biggest amount of work left to do.
There’s a week’s worth of work to be done on the floor, filling holes left when bars from the old jail were cut out to make new cells and strips of metal left behind from concrete embedded tables were removed.
It was a task that didn’t get included in the overall project, or it one of the many items stripped out to reduce overall costs.
Without fixing the floor, Harbin said, the holes and metal strips would be a hazard — or an opportunity to get a free trip to the hospital — to inmates and a potential lawsuit against the county.
Taking care of that oversight was foremost among topics discussed Wednesday at a weekly construction meeting.
Haselhorst said he received a low bid of $42,328 for repairing the floor and laying down an epoxy coating to cover the otherwise slick concrete.
“We’re going to pay for it ourselves through the county commission,” Haselhorst said.
Doing so, he said, will ultimately reduce the price to $36,260 because the county won’t have to pay a surcharge of 10 percent of the cost to MW Builders, the general contractor for the Courthouse and LEC project, or a 5 percent surcharge for architectural services. Instead, Haselhorst and Sheriff’s detective Scott Braun — who has served as the liaison for the sheriff’s office on the jail project — will supervise the work.
The contractor will be on site and ready to begin Feb. 2, and expect to wrap up resurfacing the jail floor a week later. They also will coat the cement floor near the first-floor holding cells, where people arrested for driving under the influence sometimes either vomit or urinate on the floor.
But that also means other work in the jail will stop.
Haselhorst said construction crews will instead focus on working on the main floor of the LEC.
That’s why Haselhorst thinks Feb. 15 is still a good target date for the sheriff’s office to return to the jail, and begin the testing process.
“If all the stars align, Feb. 15 will be a good day,” he said.
Haselhorst is hoping the three holding cells on the first floor of the LEC can be used in the interim to house inmates as they prepare to go to court.
To test all that, he’s toying with the idea of getting volunteers or scouts to spend the night in the cells.
“See if it works before we bring the bad guys back,” Haselhorst said.
Once the jailers are able to get back into the 72-bed jail, they’ll then test systems to make sure everything there works.
“The guys doing the security system are asking for four days of training,” Haselhorst said.
He admits it’s a tight schedule for the contractor.
“I need to keep a deadline because I don’t want this to drag on until April,” Haselhorst said. “In all reality, I want this jail filled to capacity by March 1.”
“They’re working to try to get everything finished,” Harbin said.
It hasn’t always been an easy ride for the sheriff in getting the jail completed.
Some items were removed to make the project cheaper and other aspects weren’t even considered, such as a steel ceiling to cover pipes and conduit.
In addition to the problem with the floor, tables and benches in the day rooms of the jail were stripped out to save money.
“We found out about three weeks ago,” Harbin said.
In response, bids were received and accepted, and department personnel will be installing the tables, bolting them into the floor and welding the bolts to make them inaccessible to inmates. The cost was $8,000, plus “however much time my guys spend up there,” he said.
A video visitation system also was pulled from the project to save costs.
Harbin moved quickly to line up a vendor who installed phones and a video visitation equipment that links day rooms in the jail with a room that had been set aside as a video visitation room.
“Luckily, the vendor worked with us and there was no out of pocket expenses,” Harbin said.
How it will work is the vendor will keep all the proceeds from the inmate phones, which require either calling cards or collect calls for outgoing calls, until all of the equipment is paid for. After that, money from phone calls will be split with the vendor and the jail’s commissary fund, which is used to pay for items used by inmates, such as jail clothes and televisions in the day rooms.
Using a phone will cost 22 cents a minute for inmates. Because the video visitation is currently only in house, there will be no charges.
But it’s important for security at the jail, because it will limit who has access to the second floor of the LEC. In the past, visiting times meant bringing jailers were pulled away to escort family members up to the jail floor and then return them downstairs.
Also needed to be completed is the installation of security cameras in some jail cells where jailers won’t be able to look into.
Haselhorst said more than 100 security cameras are going up in and around the combined project, and the company doing the work plans to add a second crew next week to get them installed before the flooring contractor shows up.
The jail’s control center, which will remotely operate doors in the jail as well as in holding cells downstairs, also must be installed.
Harbin praised jailers as a well as people who have been transporting inmates to and from outlying jails.
“The condition of the jail before we left and the year out here,” he said, “I’m surprised they still show up.”
All that helps add to the desire to move back in.
“I will be glad,” Harbin said of when the time comes to move back in. “I will be very glad.”
He’s not yet willing to say, however, that the routine of housing inmates in outlying jails will cease.
Inmate numbers have increased dramatically in recent months, and frequently exceed the 72-bed capacity of the new jail.
How many can be housed in the jail also will depend on the inmates, such as how well they get along with each other, and how many women there are. Women have to be housed separately.
“We are going to do our best to avoid it,” Harbin said of housing inmates out of county.