Lafourche jail committee reviews latest look

The Lafourche Parish New Jail Committee met last Wednesday to view the latest design and cost proposals from MWL Architects of Lafayette for the a proposed jail. The committee also discussed funding options for the new facility.

So far, the committee has viewed two early proposals for the new jail, without moving forward on any specific plan. The proposals are not based on any hard data provided by the new jail committee.

“Our design for the new parish jail will have 600 beds, be 105,000 square feet and will cost $22 million to build,” MWL architect Mike LeBlanc said. “The jail will cost $33,208 per bed to build, which is below the national average of $55,000 to 60,000 per bed.”

The building’s cost estimate under LeBlanc’s proposal includes site utilities, buildings, furniture, fixtures, equipment, architecture and engineer fees, start-up, bond fees, interim interest and contingencies.

LeBlanc’s firm has serviced the building inmate housing for more than 22 years and has more than 11,783 beds to its credit.

“About 110 employees will be needed to run the jail, but this number could go down if you choose to use trustees to staff areas such as food services and laundry,” LeBlanc said.

Other figure estimates in LeBlanc’s plan were a yearly payroll of $4.5 million and $14.75 cost-per-day, or $269,925 a month, to house inmates. Monthly operating and labor costs for the jail are estimated at $836,833.

There are currently 66 people employed at the Lafourche Detention Center, and the estimated budget for salaries and benefits for the detention center in 2012 is $3.6 million. The estimated monthly cost for labor is $30,000, and the annual operating cost is $7.45 million. Cost-per-day to house inmates is $24.39.

“Right now, here in south Louisiana, it costs about $110 per square foot to build a new house,” Councilman Aaron Caillouet said. “Tell me how you arrived at your $125 to $150 per square foot estimate for the jail.”

LeBlanc cited the costs of using a metal building frame and concrete walls, floors and ceilings, plumbing and electrical and the changes in market prices as the reasons behind the estimate.

“The market will dictate the cost in the long run, and only once have I ever had to re-bid a project,” LeBlanc said. “I expect 10 to 15 bids for this job. We go local for supplies. There are no secrets in the building costs, and we deliver with quality.”

The committee discussed several ways to fund the building, but no decision was made, and committee member and Lafourche Parish Finance Director Ryan Friedlander and other members of the parish’s finance department will be meeting in the next few weeks to talk numbers.

Cortrell Davis, warden of the Larourche Parish Detention Center, and Julie Thibodeaux, with the American Civil Liberties Union, made the only public comments on Leblanc’s proposal.

“Thanks for taking us a step in the right direction. It was overdue,” Davis said. “I am glad to see the numbers and designs, the meat and potatoes of the project.”

Thibodeaux, who has already spoken to some of the committee members, expressed concerns about the jail’s bed estimate.

“We at the ACLU were wondering where the 600-bed estimate came from. We were a little nervous when we heard that number,” Thibodeaux said. “The ACLU would like to see a 500-bed facility built instead, to help cut costs. We don’t want to see it built too small because of overcrowding, but our main concern is that the jail will be built too large and be a waste of space and funding.”

Thibodaux suggested that Lafourche Parish conduct a jail size study before a final decision is made on a design plan, citing the ACLU’s work with James Austin, a consultant who specializes in prison-population studies. Austin most recently provided figures for a facility in Livingston Parish.

“We want to make sure our communities are getting the right sized jails,” Thibodeaux said. “If we build a bigger jail than is needed, they (prisoners) will come from out of parish to stay there, if the parish pays for that. And the ACLU is against one parish housing prisoners from other parishes.”

Lafourche Parish Council President and committee member Charlotte Randolph assured Thibodaux that she would make sure that the taxpayers of Lafourche Parish would be safeguarded from paying the tab for out-of-parish prisoners.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect my turf,” Randolph said. “We are bringing in enough inmates through contracts to assist in paying.”

After the public comments, Councilman Lindel Toups addressed funding of the proposed building.

“We could possibly use a quarter-cent sales tax or maybe roll back library millages. I’m not going after the libraries, but we’ve got nine libraries paid for. Maybe we could take a mil and a half from that. Other parishes are also adding on to traffic fines to fund projects, so we could also look at that,” he said.

Coucilman Jerry Lafont opposed raising sales taxes to pay for the new jail.

“The sales taxes in south Lafourche, where I’m from, are high. I’ll fight an additional sales tax,” he said. “I don’t think Lafourche needs another sales tax. We have 54 boards in this parish, and I think we can find a millage somewhere,” Lafont said. “We are the highest millage-taxed parish in the state. We don’t want to tax our people and businesses out of the parish.”

At the close of the meeting, Dufrene and Toups stressed the importance of the new jail.

“We all have to work together – councils, judges, committees,” Toups said. “We have to find a solution. This committee has become a joke. It’s taken us three or four years to get to this point. A 600 bed jail sounds nice. We’ve got people with DWIs getting out because we don’t have place to jail them.”

“This is a huge project,” Durefene said. “The current facility is antiquated, and repair costs are through the roof.”