Smith County Commissioners Pick Firm To Construct Jail

A new Smith County jail came a step closer to reality this morning. County commissioners today picked the company that will design and build the jail. But the bigger questions of where it will be built and how much will it cost are still unanswered.

Smith County Commissioners spent the morning discussing the jail project. First up, the Smith County Jail Design Committee. Two of the members, commissioners JoAnn Hampton and JoAnn Fleming recommended Dallas' Wigington Hooker Jeffry Architects to design the jail, and Lee Lewis Construction to build it. "Architecturally, they're same folks that built the juvenile facility, so we've got prior experience within the county, as well, so there is a very positive reputation for that standpoint," said Smith County Commissioner David Stein.

Smith County Judge Becky Dempsey say choosing the firm is a big step in the project moving forward. "They presented a great proposal and I'm looking forward to working with them."

Now that commissioners have chosen a firm to design the jail, the next component is where to build it. The Master Plan Resource Committee, a group of business leaders who want to keep the jail downtown, made a presentation to commissioners. "It just provides many options, but it shows from a land use standpoint that the downtown is a very viable location," said Martin Heines, a member of the committee.

The two options are Option East -- estimated to cost $70.7 million dollars. And Option South -- estimated at $58.75 million. The committee recommends building a multi-story jail, which they say will save taxpayers money in the long run. But so far, commissioners have only looked at the estimates for a one-story jail. "What we have to decide now is, do we get estimates on what it would be for a multi-story facility," said Stein.

He says the Jail Site Selection Committee will continue its review keeping its options open. Judge Dempsey says, ultimately, the final decision rests in the hands of voters. "I've always been a proponent and still remain a proponent of going back to the voter with respect to whatever we do with the process. They have a vested interest in the process. They're paying the bills and we need to hear from them," said Dempsey.

That vote will not come for some time. There has not been a definite deadline approved for the jail's construction. Commissioners also heard a presentation from the Smith County Jail Finance Committee.

Oralia Ortega, reporting.