PROGRESS 2014: Regional jail nears completion

By Alex Bridges

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S. 340-522 should open in July as scheduled, officials with the project say.

After 10 years of discussions and debates among local leaders about the project, the nearly $80 million facility should allow all three jurisdictions to close their local jails.

The 175,000 square-foot jail will serve Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren counties and will house 375 inmates initially. The jail will contain cells and dormitories for inmates; support space that includes food and medical service, laundry, intake and release, recreation and education, visitation, a magistrate’s office, administration and staff. The initial staffing plan calls for 95 employees to work in the building each day.

In the past year, the project moved forward apace. The RSW Regional Jail Authority Board hired Robert Mulligan to serve as the superintendent, who then set about filling staff positions ahead of the facility opening needed for the transition. The jail also recently sent the first wave of recruits to the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy. Mulligan has said he anticipates sending another group of recruits to the academy in April.

Howard Shockey & Sons is expected to reach substantial completion on the RSW Regional Jail by late March or early April, said Project Manager Alex Lane.

The company serves as the general contractor for the project. Construction entered the final stages in recent weeks as subcontractors completed specific parts of the facility. Lane said workers were constructing the dropped ceilings and applying final coats of paint to some areas of the jail. Crews recently began the final testing of the mechanical and electrical systems throughout the jail, Lane said. Norment Security Group, a subcontractor in charge of installing security systems has been running tests as well.

Shockey then will work on the “punch lists” for the general contractor and the architect to see that parts of the building have been constructed as planned.

More than 30 subcontractors have been working on site since construction began in 2012, Lane said. Many of the subcontractors employ other subcontractors to handle specific parts of the construction.

Lane estimated that jail staff could begin working in the facility by May or June.

Warren County can expect to pay more than Shenandoah and Rappahannock counties to cover the local costs of operating the jail. Warren County also appeared to need the regional jail the most of the three jurisdictions as its local facility continues to suffer from overcrowding.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors recently heard an update on the project from County Administrator Doug Stanley. He also chairs the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board. As of the end of January, the project had reached 93 percent completion and 155 workers were on site.

In response to a question from Supervisor Archie Fox, Stanley told the board the county currently spends $750,000-$775,000 in local revenue annually to operate its jail. However, by fiscal 2016, Stanley estimated the county would spend $2.5-$2.6 million per year in local revenue. Stanley calculated the county’s share based on a three-year rolling average of the number of inmates provided by each jurisdiction. The amount could rise or fall depending on how many inmates come from each county.

As Fox pointed out, the regional jail will cost the county nearly four times the amount paid to run the local facility. Stanley explained that the local share also helps to cover the “debt service,” or loan used to pay for the project.

The jail authority borrowed money to pay for the construction. Participating counties did not directly borrow the money through the sale of bonds on the open market by the Virginia Resource Authority. When the facility opens, each county will pay a share of the operating costs that also includes the loan.

“Essentially, because it’s not debt of the county, it’ll all be an operational cost to us, because the facility will be owned by the regional jail [authority],” Stanley said. “Our budget will go from three-quarters of a million to 2 ½ million.”

The authority also expects the state to reimburse it for half of the allowable expenses related to the project,

The jail authority board meets regularly and hears updates on the project construction and spending of the money in the budget. Owner representative James Marstin reports on the construction while Shenandoah County Budget Manager Garland Miller updates the board on how much of the loan the authority has spent on the project. Representatives from Moseley Architects also provide information on the progress made with the facility.

The project attracted support as well as controversy and opposition from the beginning. Foes in Shenandoah County said the local cost of building and operating the jail outweighed the need for a new facility. In the year after construction began, officials from some of the towns in Shenandoah County expressed concern that police would need to leave their communities to transport arrested individuals to the regional jail. This would hit town police departments in New Market and Mount Jackson especially hard, greatly increasing the travel time for officers and keeping them away from their communities.

Shenandoah County leaders recently endorsed a plan to convert part of the local jail into a processing area for arrested individuals. Town police could perform most of the processing required and then release those individuals who did not need to be taken directly to jail. A Sheriff’s Office deputy would assist the town police by transporting the individuals to the regional jail.

Also in the past year, the jail board reached a deal with Front Royal that allows the facility to send water collected in an underground cistern and used for laundry and other, non-potable ways, to the town’s sewage treatment plant. The jail board authority and town leaders reached the agreement after months of debate over the issue. The jail authority board had entertained the idea not only of building an on-site, wastewater treatment plant but also a way to provide water to the facility — without the town’s help. Town officials claimed that the jail would breach a contract with Front Royal if it chose not to connect to the town water and sewer supply. In the end, town leaders and jail officials agreed to connect to the town for water and sewer, the latter to include the used rainwater from the correctional facility.

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Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or