Newsom presents alternate plan for courthouse, jail expansion

He says county could save money with optional approach

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram New Editor

April 2, 2008 - Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom on Monday again presented information to county commissioners suggesting an alterative to the county's plans for expanding the courthouse using the old Fidelity Express building on Jefferson Street.

According to Newsom, the alternate plan could end up costing the county less money, or no additional money, and provide more safety while helping consolidate some county offices.

"We cannot afford not to do it," said Newsom, who originally proposed an alternate plan in December. "Hopkins County government is in six locations around Sulphur Springs. If possible we can move toward getting that to fewer locations for everyone's benefit."

The presentation came during a workshop, so no action was taken by commissioners Monday.

Newsom recommends that future Hopkins County courtrooms be moved next to the county jail, limiting the public's exposure to inmates being transported to court for trial. He said that would also cut back on the number of officers needed both in the courtroom and to transport inmates to court.

A facility could be constructed for the court, judges' offices and other requisite rooms for a court facility, Newsom proposed.

Newsom also asked commissioners to consider an offer from a local business to purchase the Fidelity Express property for the amount the county paid for it. According to Newsom, the offer would clear the debt incurred to buy the Fidelity Express building and land, plus give the county two buildings located just north of the jail.

The two extra buildings could house the district and county clerk's offices with only minimal repairs. A court facility would be constructed by the jail, and the jail extended, Newsom noted in his proposal.

The building next to the jail, referred to in the proposal as the Watson building, contains 2,742 square feet and is appraised at $144,880.

The building just north of the Watson building, referred to as the NetData building, contains 5,362 square feet and is valued at $231,150.

Newsom proposed the Watson building be used by the district clerk or another county office, and the Net Data building for the county clerk "with probably room for our county attorney as well."

Accepting the deal to pay off Fidelity and obtain the two extra properties would save the county $2,500 per month for a building on North Davis Street -- formerly the Sulphur Springs Loan and Building Association -- that is being rented currently to house the county clerk's office, according to Newsom.

Also, Newsom's plan recommends adding 48 cells to the south side of the jail. Any cells not used for Hopkins County prisoners could be used to generate money. Newsom pointed out the county could contract with other counties, as well as the state and federal prison systems, to house inmates at a rate of $40-$43 per inmate, per day, with more than half that money coming to the county as a profit.

The judge said if the addition were completely filled, it could generate $1,152 daily, or about $34,569 per month and $414,828 annually.

Newsom also outline ways to save money on his proposal, using a project in Franlkin County as an example.

Like the recent expansion in Franklin County, Newsom recommended hiring a project manager and using inmate labor to do the bulk of the work, thereby saving the county a large amount of money.

Using inmate labor, Franklin County was able to construct a 5,000 square foot addition for $375,000. Based on recent figures, Newsom estimates a 10,000 square foot justice center could be constructed for $1 million, using a hired project manager and inmate labor. He said it would cost $2 million for a construction company using civilian labor to construct the proposed justice center.

Similarly, in 2006, Franklin County was able to construct a jail addition with most of the work done by inmates.

Both facilities have met state standards, Newsom said, based on information from the Franklin County sheriff.

To have a construction company construct 48-bed jail expansion, with 240 square feet per inmate as recommended, using civilian labor would cost $2.9 million. Franklin County paid $1.592 million.

Also, it will mean Hopkins County is ready for the increase in jail population projected over the next 10 years, and therefore ahead of the game and profiting from it until the space is needed.

Newsom also addressed the need for parking, a concern expressed previously when the plan was discussed.

"With open parking at approximately 100 cars per acres, there should be easily 200-300 parking spaces available, which is certainly adequate," Newsom notes in the plan he outlined and presented Monday to commissioners.

Newsom said that the proposal is a revision of the original proposal he presented to county commissioners in December.

"My original proposalwas for 2 courtrooms: one large seating 100 people and one small seating 25 person. I also proposed building offices for Judges, prosecutors, and court personnel with large offices for the District Clerk and County Clerk. If you purchase the NetData and Watson buildings, there will be no need for building clerk offices, so the proposal becomes much simpler," Newsom wrote in the proposal.

He said the courtrooms would be constructed on the north side of the jail and would include witness and attorney rooms, as well as judges' quarters. The facility could be built within the same budget as was proposed for the Fidelity building, he said.

"However, a number of citizens have contacted me regarding going ahead and building an addition similar to the proposal that the commissioners' court had planned originally with 2 courtrooms, judges offices, adult and juvenile probation and both District and County prosecutor offices," he noted.

If the county wanted to continue with the larger, more expensive plan, Newsom recommends selling the tax/county attorney office area on Main Street so it would go back on the tax rolls and generate money.

"The current appraised value of 118 Main Street (.229 acres) is $243,870, which would be used to offset the price of the new justice center. Also, the probation office property at 228 Hinnant Street (.754 acres) is appraised at $305,780.00 which again would be applied to the cost of the new justice center when sold," Newsom states in the draft of his proposal.

He also recommends purchasing any property that becomes available on Houston Street near the location of a new justice center to get all six county offices in one place.

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