By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- The area's next regional jail left most visitors in awe during a tour Tuesday.
But no one seemed interested in staying in the jail unwillingly.
The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail gave tours for area government and law enforcement officials following a ribbon cutting for the facility set to open July 1. The jail then held an open house for the public that drew many curious visitors.
Front Royal residents Burton and Liz Dowden took a tour of the jail with their granddaughter, Abby Carter.
"I think it's a good place to stay out of," Burton Dowden said. "You need a roadmap in that place."
The 175,000-square-foot jail can house 375 inmates initially, but double bunking allows the jail to increase that number. The facility's design also leaves room for the jail to expand in the future without disruption and increase its capacity to more than 900 inmates.
Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Smith said after the tour that the new jail should eliminate problems with overcrowding at the local jails. Her jail holds about 26 inmates.
"I think we built it for the future and I guess now it's just time to load everybody up and start the process and move forward," Smith said.
The jail will employ nearly 150 sworn corrections officers along with other civilian personnel. Many of the officers worked in the local jails before coming to the regional facility. Other officers worked in area law enforcement agencies and joined the jail staff after completing training in corrections.
Regional jail Sgt. Mike Miller directed one tour group through the sprawling facility. Miller, who previously worked for police departments in New Market and Mount Jackson, took visitors through maximum-security and work release living areas, the jail kitchen and the intake and classification areas where officers observe people who have recently arrived at the jail.
The jail features a large kitchen area responsible for providing food to the inmates. Food Service Manager Kim Cheeks said the jail kitchen can provide meals for up to 500 inmates in one shift, though she expects to only need to feed 350-375 inmates at a time. Cheeks said she worked in a school years ago and it had a kitchen of about the same size.
Linda Sinnett and Shanda Wilkins are senior staff in the kitchen. Wilkins headed up food service at Sherando High School in Frederick County and served about 1,500 students a day. Sinnett previously worked in food service at the Shenandoah County Jail and its kitchen served about 100 people.
"It is about 10 times bigger than ours," Sinnett said. "Ours was very small. ... We got it done, though."
Sinnett pointed out the new amenities available in the kitchen she didn't have at the local jail.
"We have some pretty nice stuff in here we'll be working with," Sinnett said. "We've got to learn how to use some of it."
Front Royal Town Council member Bret Hrbek commented on the jail as he took the tour. Hrbek had voiced his concerns with the project, most recently about the town agreeing, after pressure by the jail authority board, to provide water and sewer service to the facility.
"It's very nice," Hrbek said. "I have my own issues with it but it's needed.
Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly called the jail "impressive."
Strasburg Town Council member Jocelyn Vena and her husband, Conrad "Corky" Vena, are familiar with jails. The councilwoman once worked at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center in Leesburg. Her husband worked in law enforcement and later as a reserve officer and had experience with jails.
The councilwoman said the RSW Regional Jail looks brighter that the Loudoun County facility, which she called "intimidating." Her husband said "I've never seen a facility like this."
"This is the most state-of-the-art one out there so far," Conrad Vena said. "This is very impressive."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org