VALDOSTA -- On a typical Friday night at the Lowndes County Jail, at least 60 people are brought in to be booked. Due to a limited capacity at the jail's intake area, inmates must sometimes wait in patrol cars to prevent conflicts.

"Lots of the time you have people lined up wanting to fight each other," said Sheriff Ashley Paulk. "That jams things up. It's one of our critical areas we need to add to."

Tonight, the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners will consider whether to approve the first phase in an expansion plan that will improve administration, visitation, kitchen and laundry facilities at the jail.

During a presentation at the board's Monday work session, the construction management company estimated the first phase could cost as much as $6.5 million.

Construction plans include building a larger intake area where all booking information will be completed and with security features such as electronic sensor cameras and sliding doors.

Paulk said the intake area's 180 person capacity is not ideal for the jail's 600 beds, another area that will require expansion.

County Manager Joe Pritchard said an expansion of the jail's housing units will occur during the second or third phase of the project. Pritchard said administrative additions and improvements to the jail's general facilities were a priority to ensure that the jail can support a population growth in the future.

"We needed to look far down the road so we don't have to come back and address these issues later," Pritchard said. "The support area is the greatest need right now, and we'll look at where the crime population goes from there."

The support area will include an expansion to the jail's kitchen and laundry facilities.

Paulk said the jail's kitchen is a stockade that was built in the 1950s and remodeled in 1976.

"It's very small when you're serving 1,800 meals a day," Paulk said. "Our medical is real small, so we've got to address that, too."

Plans from Peter Brown Construction Inc. show an increase for isolated chambers in the medical ward with direct visibility especially for those prisoners who are at risk for suicide.

Additional security will include a control room for 24-hour supervision of the facility and enhanced locks and electrical features at the cells.

"If anything happens you can shut down everything," said John Stewart, executive vice president of Peter Brown Construction. "They can see what's happening in the entire jail from the control room. We're come down pretty darn hard on the architects to see that they not cut corners on security."

In the visitation area, video conferencing will be available for some inmates to communicate with relatives. Inmates will communicate via video from a booth at the jail cell area to reduce transportation costs.

"Any time you're moving a prisoner is a critical time, that's their best chances to cause trouble," Paulk said.

If approved by the board tonight, plans show completion of the first phase by May 2006. Stewart said construction will allow for input from the sheriff and his staff. Meanwhile, local businesses will be able to bid on construction materials.

"If you're going to be spending $6 million, then they're going to want to be a part of it," Stewart said.

He added that an exact figure on the first price would be determined after a public bid opening and a guaranteed maximum price can be given based on the bids from local businesses.

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