Problems with the current Hunt County Detention Center have been getting worse since it was built and are now so bad that county officials had no other option but to consider constructing a new facility.
County Judge Bobby Stovall spoke during Thursday’s Hunt County Economic Development Alliance luncheon, which focused on the proposition on the Nov. 2 ballot concerning a future Hunt County Jail and Criminal Justice Center.
Stovall stressed he wasn’t speaking either for or against the ballot item, but said he was asked to provide background on the history of what lead up to the $75 million proposal.
Stovall said the problems with the jail are not due to any overcrowding, noting under estimates of future inmate population counts the county would probably not have to deal with the issue until around 2040.
“Unfortunately, our jail will not make it that long,” Stovall said, adding the detention center is literally falling apart and has been since it was built in 2003.
“It is actually the original construction,” Stovall said of the building, which has multiple walls being braced to keep them from falling in, supports which have been in place since before the jail opened.
But Stovall said little was done to repair the problems for the first few years.
“They did nothing until County Judge John Horn came on board,” Stovall said.
The county filed multiple lawsuits against multiple companies and individuals.
“Pretty much anyone who was involved with it,” Stovall said.
Eventually the county received around $6 million from the suits, much of which was spent on architects, engineers and contractors in efforts just to keep the jail standing.
Stovall said the building continues to have cracks throughout the ceilings, walls and doors.
“The settlement of the foundation no longer supports the walls in some areas,” he said, with constant sewer stoppages and water leaks.
“The pipes are either pulled apart or they are being crushed into the building,” Stovall said.
Some of the cell doors don’t operate and sensors in others cannot determine if there is an inmate inside or not.
Should the bond issue fail, Stovall said the only option would be to transport the 300 some odd prisoners back and forth to other locations, at a cost of approximately $60 per prisoner per day, or $18,000 per prisoner per day.
“There’s nobody that would take all 300 of them,” Stovall said, indicating that some facilities in far west Texas would be used. “And that would cost us even more.”
Should the proposition pass, Stovall said while there are a few options being considered no firm decision has been made on a new location.
“It won’t be downtown,” he said.
The new facility would be built on acreage large enough to allow for future expansion if needed and to add other offices.
“We’re planning on a courts building being attached to the jail,” Stovall said.
Courtrooms cannot be added or expanded onto the Hunt County Courthouse, because as it is a historic building, it is only supposed to hold the 196th District Court.
Greenville Board of Development CEO Greg Sims explained that population growth also has to be considered, with 18,000 new homes already in the permitting process west of Greenville.
“You’re looking at more than 40,000 people coming there in another five or six years,” Sims said as both he and Stovall hinted at multiple significant business prospects being announced for Hunt County in the very near future.
“It is amazing what is happening in the county right now,” Stovall said.
Should the bond issue pass, Stovall estimates it would take between two and three years before it would be ready for operation.
Early voting for the election is scheduled Oct. 18-29.