Granville County, on the northern border of North Carolina with a population of 60,000, is building a new County Detention, Law Enforcement & Animal Control Center, in a bold effort to address the needs of the whole community.
Granville County’s existing detention facility, located in Oxford, was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s and has had only one remodel since, in the 1990s. The building was initially designed to hold 80 inmates and is just under 10,000 square feet. However, over the past nine years, it has regularly housed between 120 and 125 inmates. The facility is now outdated, both in the overall design and for modern programming needs.
“Our existing detention facility is designed as a gang domicile, meaning that they are large, open-room domiciles rather than two-man cells, so it’s large populations in large, open areas,” said Michael Felts, Granville County Manager. “The facilities are limited in managing populations as you need to.”
The project kicked off with a ‘Space Needs Study’ that was conducted in 2015 to determine if a renovation, remodel or complete new construction was needed. What the study determined was that it would not be cost-effective to renovate or remodel, and that the county needed to build a new facility that would offer efficiencies for the whole County in being a one-stop site for all law enforcement and safety needs.
Addressing a need
“What we have found as we worked through this project is that our current facility was not adequate as far as capacity goes,” explained Felts. “It was not necessarily designed to meet some of the modern applications that are being performed in detention centers. That would be education and other programming events that you might be able to bring in to a detention facility to augment the population there. Those two factors prompted us to really begin looking at it in 2009.”
A separate evaluation of the Granville County Animal Shelter, just outside of Oxford, determined that this facility was also no longer adequate to meet the County’s needs. Located on the grounds of a former state prison and operating from several individual buildings, the facility offered no room for expansion. It was also deemed to be outdated and inefficient.
The Granville County Board of Commissioners agreed that a new adjacent animal shelter should be added to the project and 35 acres of land were purchased on New Commerce Drive in Oxford. Moseley Architects were hired to do the primary design; Bordeaux Construction was hired to do the construction; and Risk/CMaR was hired to manage the whole project.
The new center will include the County Sheriff’s Office, the Emergency Communications Center (911 call center) and a Detention Center, all in one facility spanning over 88,000 square feet. The Detention Center will house 176 beds for men and women at the outset, with capacity for up to 250 beds in the future.
Wise use of resources
The main reason for combining all of these services under one roof is the economy of scale – meaning they can take advantage of the cost savings in mechanical equipment, and in equipment for heating and cooling.
“A lot of our facilities have to maintain communications between law enforcement and the detention center, so having one facility also makes it a little easier to have all those communications under one roof,” said Felts. “There are also the added benefits of being able to respond to issues in the detention center, so overall better security, better oversight, better communications and economy of scale – and ultimately, better efficiencies in operation.”
When the County began looking at the type of facility to be built, two models of detention centers were explored: direct supervision, where detention officers are in with the inmates in some capacity, and indirect supervision, where they are not in the room with the inmates but have visual review of the inmates through off-site video monitoring, or an overview site. What they opted for was a design combination of both.
“The center of the housing units is an elevated facility with glass walls looking into each of the housing units,” explained Felts. “Staff engage with the inmate at the point of intake, and once [the inmates] are into the housing unit [the staff] have the ability to do 100 percent indirect monitoring of inmates. There is also a station inside the housing unit, for the detention officer to be inside the housing units with the inmates, which will be used primarily in the day time.”
With this design they feel the populations will be better managed. By replacing the gang domiciles with double and single occupancy cells, they have the ability to lock down to individual cells to manage the population, when needed. And by having recreational yards attached to the housing unit there is less transporting of inmates within the facility.
“With that managed population you can imagine that my costs for workers’ compensation claims – medical expenses arising from disputes, for lack of a better word – all those should also be [reduced] in this new facility,” said Felts.
Savings through efficiency
The total budget for the overall project is $31,000,000, which will be paid for through public funds. The county has already paid a portion of the build out of savings that were accumulated during the planning phase, with the balance being covered by debt servicing.
While they are not expecting a net cost saving for the county in operations, they are looking at being able to take some of the inefficiencies that are costing the county and improve on those, rolling them into the greater operational efficiency of the new facility.
“Because we have added capacity when we open up the new facility, we will be able to house inmates from outside of Granville County,” said Felts. “So just like we were sending people to other facilities, people will now be able to send inmates to Granville County for housing.”
Felts went on to explain that “this is not an ‘if we build it, they will come’ model. The County looked at how we can afford this project and how we can manage this project, assuming we do not house outside inmates. So any of those inmates’ dollars coming in from outside the county will just add to, and allow us to accelerate, debt service – but they’re not necessary to pay for this facility.”
Currently 37 people are employed by the county; however, when the new facility is complete, it will include six additional detention center positions and fewer kitchen staff positions – as that service will be subcontracted – for a total of 35 to 37 full-time employees.
Meeting mental health needs
The community has been very supportive of the facility and is excited to see County Commissioners taking a strong stance on public safety. Law enforcement has been faced with an increasing problem that has impacted all aspects of the community, and this facility should help address the issue.
“The biggest issues that most any jurisdiction is facing right now are the mental health issues related to the opioid crisis and other addiction issues,” said Felts. “We are finding, and have found over the years, that a lot of those suffering from addiction issues end up in our court and detention system, so detention centers are having a difficult time managing populations.
“We’re designed to house inmates, not necessarily to provide mental health services, so Granville County, along with many other counties across our nation, are looking at ways we get people the help they need before they enter into the legal system,” Felts explained.
“But if they do get into the legal system, how can we incorporate programs and services inside the detention center to be able to address those needs? In the new facility, because of the way it’s designed – its size and its structure – we will be able to bring in some of those services.”
Care for animals
The issues facing the Animal Control Center have presented in several different forms. The dated HVAC system from the existing facility and the number of animals that are housed there have caused safety issues for both staff and public.
“In our current facility, if an animal came in with kennel cough or another communicable disease, it could quickly spread to the other animals,” said Felts. “In this new facility we’ll be able to isolate those animals and because of the air circulation we’ll be able to prevent a lot of that sharing of existing diseases.”
Granville County has been experiencing an increase in population, and has been building to accommodate that, but with new housing come wildlife issues and animals being forced to find new homes and new sources of food. The result is that where there is new construction, there’s also an increase in the appearance of rabies among domestic animals.
“The new facility will make a huge impact on our ability to address animal welfare issues, and it should give us the ability to manage the animal population that’s in the facility a little more efficiently,” said Felts.
The current staff also feel that a more welcoming building will encourage more visitors and adoptions. “Our staff just wants to do a good job and have the support needed to do that, for the welfare of our animal population,” said Matt Katz, Animal Management Director.
Construction for the facilities began in December 2018 and an official ground-breaking ceremony was held on March 12, 2019. The planned timeline has the Sheriff’s Office moving into the new location in July of 2020, with the Animal Shelter following in September, and finally the Detention Center in December.
“For me this has been a decade long process in one aspect or another,” said Felts. “I started out as the finance director working on this project, then in 2013 became the county manager, so I’ve taken this from a conceptual point in 2009 to working it as the county administrator. This did not happen overnight, it’s taken a long time for us to put together and we’ve done it very deliberately, and done it very thoughtfully, because our goal is to not just spend money, but to spend money efficiently and effectively to better the services to the community.”
Felts went on to say that he feels that it puts the county’s public safety in a good position for the next 35 to 50 years. “We are not building for today, but building for the future.”