Multimillion-dollar jail project in Cape May County will cost more than expected

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Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer talks about the jail project during the freeholders’ meeting Tuesday. MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The new county jail will cost nearly $40 million, much more than officials expected.

But Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer said during a county freeholders meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25, that taxes would not go up because of the project, and indicated that the project will be able to be bonded.

At one point, officials put a new jail at $29 million, but did not factor in other costs, such as demolition and equipment, fixtures and furniture.

Freeholder director Gerald Thornton said the project is costly but needed.

Work is expected to get underway later this year. The current facility is overcrowded, with three people to a cell, and has been out of compliance for more than a decade.

At the same time, Thornton said Tuesday that he has concerns about an increase in sheriff’s office personnel with a larger jail.

“Hold me accountable. Hold me accountable,” Schaffer said at the podium in the Cape May County administration building in Middle Township.

Schaffer said he is asking for the freeholders’ trust in the major project. He said he is hoping the new jail would last 50 years or more and have little maintenance.

The new facility would hold more than 350 inmates, which includes the medical beds. The jail will consist of several units, some with eight-person cells and others with single person cells.

McMahon said that the current jail is only supposed to have at most 169 inmates. Instead, there are nearly 270 on an average day.

Thornton said the jail has been out of compliance for 12 or 13 years and county officials were made aware in 2005.

Also, the building’s bathroom walls are crumbling, there are lighting and air quality issues and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units date back 30 years.

“We’re building for the future. It’s a big step, I know,” said Schaffer.

That future includes a courtroom where inmates would be arraigned; a laundry facility in which inmates would do laundry for the jail and the Crest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Middle Township, according to Jack King of L.R. Kimball, a firm that is helping with the jail plans.

There would also be medical beds and an area where juveniles who are tried as adults would be placed. Inmates would also be able be part of more activities, such as religion classes and Alcoholics Anonymous. The current jail only has one classroom.

“This is a small city we’re building here,” said Schaffer.

At the meeting Tuesday, King released the figures for the project. Hs said the demolition is estimated at $370,000, and fixtures, furniture and equipment totals $2 million. The overall project amounts to $39.7 million.

According to McMahon, the new county jail would also bring a cost savings of $400,000-$500,000 in operating expenses a year.

About $142,000 would come from inmates helping with laundry from Crest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Middle Township. That would mean the county officials would not have to contract with Wildwood Linen, she said.

Also, with a courtroom in the two-story jail, that would reduce transportation and manpower expenses. The judge would visit the jail instead of inmates making appearances at the courthouse in Middle Township. McMahon estimates that would save the county $103,000. A medical area in the new jail would also save the county $185,000, according to McMahon.

The design work could be finished in July for the new jail, and there would be a three-month bidding and awarding process, according to King. He said the project could be finished in two years, though a completion would be expected sooner.

The jail project has been in the planning stages for several years and has undergone many revisions.

McMahon said the jail project in 2008 included an $8.5 million minor renovation. Then, about a year ago, a $29 million renovation was proposed, but that would not make the county compliant with regulations.

The best option now, officials say, is a new facility on the same plot of land where the current jail stands. The current plans call for construction in phases, so the prisoners would not have to be moved.

L.R. Kimball has helped design five jails in New Jersey. The company, which provides architecture, engineering and communications technology services, is headquartered in Pennsylvania.

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