AUGUSTA — A construction project that’s expected to get under way this year at the Kennebec County jail is intended to relieve chronic crowding.

Kennebec County Interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon said the jail’s indoor recreation area will be converted into a two-story space with a common area on the lower level and 24 beds for inmates and bathroom facilities on the upper level. A new stairwell and adjustments to the windows also are planned.

That addition will increase the jail’s capacity to 171 from 147, but it still might not be enough to accommodate spikes in the jail’s population.

“On Monday morning, the jail population was 190. We had several large arrests over the weekend,” Reardon said Tuesday, shortly after Kennebec County commissioners approved an engineering proposal for the jail renovations. “Thirty of them were taken to court, and 28 came back here.”

By 1 p.m. Tuesday, the jail’s population was 174. Thirty inmates are being housed at the Cumberland County jail and 18 at the Somerset County jail, and Maine Pretrial Service is handling 130 people, he said.

A number of those arrested have no local address, Reardon said, and no means to make bail.

“It’s not a comfortable situation,” Reardon said. “We’ve got cots in common areas and classrooms. There is a heightened awareness of the situation.”

In an attempt to limit the population at the jail about a year ago, Reardon’s predecessor, Sheriff Randall Liberty, had asked local police departments to limit arrests for minor, nonviolent offenses.

“No one can say we haven’t tried our hardest, but there are factors outside of our control,” Reardon said, adding that the project cannot start soon enough.

In approving the funding for the $35,000 engineering proposal, the county commissioners set in motion a plan for E.S. Coffin Engineering and Surveying to put the project out to bid and to supervise the construction. Reardon said he’ll have a better idea of what the project will cost when the bids come in, but the estimates range from $150,000 to $250,000. The money will come from the jail’s capital improvement fund.

County Administrator Bob Devlin said county officials asked for a quote from Coffin Engineering because the firm had done work for the county before.

“We are under the gun to move forward,” he said. “We’ll exhaust that fund with this project. My hope is that the number of inmates slows down.”

Once under way, the construction is expected to take nine months to a year. It also will include building a canopy over the outside recreation area to extend its use.

At the same time, the jail is upgrading its security system, provided by Montgomery Technical Systems, to replace hardware and software that’s no longer supported. The system, when upgraded, will add the capability to track employees in the jail via a card reader system.

“On our current system, we can’t track where people go,” Jason Stonier, maintenance supervisor for the jail, said. The current system is running off an 11-year-old-computer that has crashed. “With this one, we can, and we can make sure checks are done on time.”

The cost of the upgrade is $34,000.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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