The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 20, 2019

New Saginaw jail will improve everything for staff

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

SAGINAW - How is the new $37 million Saginaw County Adult Detention Center going to be an improvement over the existing jail?

"Everything, everything is going to be better," said Saginaw County Sheriff's Lt. Ebony Rasco, with her emphasis provided. "It will be better for the staff, better for the prisoners, better for the public. It's going to make our jobs a whole lot easier."

Construction began in June 2018 on the site of a parking lot, and it is hoped the project will be wrapped up in March 2020. Work has proceeded under the construction management of Spence Brothers, although the schedule has been set back a few months by an inability to find sufficient craft workers. "I'm proud of the fact that we have a lot of union trades on the site, and they've done a good job for us right from the opening," said Saginaw County Sheriff Bill Federspiel. "And Spence Brothers, they're doing awesome. I couldn't have asked for any better."

The detention center at Harrison and Adams Streets, across the street from the existing jail, is technically a five-story building, but because of its unique purpose it only has three floors. The efficiencies of design with the new building will allow the county to reduce by about a third the number of officers monitoring the inmates, which will offer a tremendous cost savings to the county. Federspiel said there would be no layoffs in the Sheriff's Department and no increase in taxes to fund construction. About 63 officers currently monitor the jail.

Built to house 513 inmates (the same capacity of the existing facility, which was designed to house 218), Federspiel said the new jail will provide officers with a modern direct-observation layout, rather than the linear set-up in the existing jail that prohibits easy line-of-sight monitoring. 

"We currently have an antiquated jail, it's not as safe for the staff and it's not as efficient for monitoring and moving prisoners," Federspiel said. "The new system will utilize pods to contain prisoners once they walk into the door, and the monitoring of them will take place in an office with windows all around, kind of like a hub with spokes in a wheel. It's such a unique, improved design compared to what we have been used to."

Federspiel said the existing jail houses an average of 410 prisoners per day, and approaches capacity by taking in prisoners, and additional income, from other counties. 

The cells in the new 87,000 square-foot-jail were prefabricated in Georgia, each including a shower, sink, toilet and bunk, transported to Saginaw and then placed into the built environment. "Plug and play," said Lt. Rasco. The building also efficiently houses all manner of other functions, including a laundry, administrative area, work stations, food service, dining, an armory and evidence room. 

According to Spence Brothers, offices for the sheriff's staff will be on the first floor, as will temporary holding and medical units. Inmate booking is initiated on the side of the building via an enclosed sally port. The top two floors feature a pod design for inmate cells, with a central control center and secure sally port area. Cells will overlook day rooms that provide recreation and dining space for the general population.

And of course, there are numerous security features, including bulletproof glass, door buzzers and extensive audio/visual wiring for cameras. The building's block walls, not surprisingly, are vertically reinforced and grouted within.

The site selected for the new facility is directly across the street from the existing jail, enabling construction of a new tunnel for prisoner movement under the street to the adjacent courthouse.

"Structurally, everything has to be completely solid," said Spence Brothers Project Engineer Richard Spence. "It's an interesting job for us, we don't get the opportunity to build a jail very often. Here, the walls, the decks - there are no defects. It's obviously a really beefy building. Everyone who has worked here to make that happen has done really well for us."

Federspiel said ultimately, any suggestions that the existing jail - which was made even more inefficient by several expansions over the years and the presence of ventilation and other mechanical issues - could be successfully renovated were easily brushed aside by reality.

"For a sheriff, the opportunity to build a new jail obviously doesn't come along very often; it's been nearly 50 years for us since we did the last one," Federspiel said. "So I'm very proud to be working with a lot of people, our staff, the judges, the Goldberg Group (Architects) and our city leaders. We've been planning this for a long time to make it a reality."

UNDER CONSTRUCTION across from the existing Saginaw County Jail, the new lockup promises to be a safer and more efficient facility for staff and a long-term cost-saver for the county. Spence Brothers is managing the project.

TYING-IN SANITARY lines in the back of rows and stacks of  jail cells at the new Saginaw County Adult Detention Center  is Randy Shuck of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85. He’s employed by Remer Plumbing.

PLANNING ELECTRICAL WORK on the third floor of the Saginaw County Adult Detention Center is Ben Small of IBEW Local 557. He’s employed by Thiel Electric.