Warren County moves ahead with construction of $45M jail

LEBANON, Ohio -- The Warren County Jail has enough beds to house about 280 inmates, county commissioner Tom Grossmann said Tuesday evening, but it needs to house more than 400. 

The Warren County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to contract with the Ohio architectural firm Wachtel & McInally, which will design the a new jail that can hold a growing population without the need for past stopgap solutions such as double-bunking and removing doors from cells.

Sheriff Larry Sims said Wachtel & McInally designed about a third of Ohio's county jails.

"Today is a great day for Warren County. We are grateful our commissioners have agreed to a contract to hire Wachtel & McInally as our architect and planners for our new jail and sheriff's office," Sims said in an email after the vote.

With Commissioner Dave Young absent, Grossmann and fellow commissioner Shannon Jones voted on Tuesday to approve a contract with the firm, agreeing to pay it 7.5 percent of the total $44 million construction cost.

"Our jail has been overcrowded for years now, and we have been releasing or refusing inmates on a regular basis. This can't come soon enough," Sims added.

Grossmann acknowledged the price might seem high but said the county was paying for assurance that the new jail would solve long-term problems.

"You're trying to expand so it can last," he said. "You're not going to be doing this in five or six or seven or 10 years."

Next, the county will select a construction manager for the project and complete construction design by June 2019.

Deputy administrator Martin Russell said the architect and construction manager will work with county staff on plans, including whether to build an entirely new facility or expand the existing jail in the county complex in Lebanon, or build the new facility on land on the edge of Lebanon.

"We'll evaluate all options. It's preferred it would be kept on the current site," Russell said, adding he hoped to shorten timetable.

The new jail is expected to open in 2021.

"Even though we have a way to go, we are now able to sit at the table to plan for our future," Sims said.

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