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Architect’s report recommends move for 911, UCSD

Repair or relocation?
These options were discussed as possible solutions to the flooding and leakage issues in the office of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and Unicoi County 911 during a meeting of the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board and Building and Grounds Committee met on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
Unicoi County Sheriff's Department Administrative Assistant Craig Masters told the members of each board that the office spaces were recently inspected by a representative of SpiritArchitecture Group, LLC.
“This gentleman sent us a survey that more or less said that we need to relocate all the offices underneath the jail where the water was coming through,” Masters said. “Some of it was coming through by the showers overflowing, some from the leakage of the roof and some from the commodes.”
Masters said that Sheriff Mike Hensley, who was not present at the meeting, is concerned that the leakage from the jail was contaminating the office spaces.
“His basic concern was water coming from inside the jail, it’s contamination and possibly what was forming on the concrete beams underneath the jail in the ceiling of the offices,” Masters said.
Chief Deputy Frank Rogers said the department is concerned about the presence of bacteria and black mold in the office spaces. Rogers also said that leaks caused by inmates do occur.
“It does happen several times a year. They stuff the toilets full of Styrofoam cups and before you know it, it’s raining down on us from above,” Rogers said. “I know, because we’ve got plastic bags over all of our computers in the office.”
Copies of the SpiritArchitecture Group report were distributed at the meeting. According to this report, “placing jail cells over office space is not a desirable planning practice due to issues that can be caused by flooding – accidental or otherwise.
“Secondary issues with mold, mildew and bacteria can also develop – in fact, almost impossible to avoid over a long period of time when unwanted moisture is present,” the report continues.
The SpiritArchitecture report also recommends that the county relocate the offices and make the space available for jail use or storage.
“Trying to prevent moisture from penetrating from above will become a never-ending task and cost,” the report states.
Commissioner James “Mickey” Hatcher, who is not a member of either board but was in attendance at the meeting, recommended the committee get a “cost factor” for repairing the building in order to stop the leakage as well as relocating the offices.
“This is one person’s opinion here. If you have to purchase another building to do this, you’re talking about a large sum of money,” Hatcher said. “At this point, where is it going to come from? Because one person says this, should we immediately jump up and say, ‘OK, here’s the checkbook?’ … We don’t want our employees to be unsafe, but we don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
The possibility that the 911 offices could move in the future has stalled work on a 911 system upgrade mandated by the state, called Next Generation 911, which must be complete by July.
“Right now, they’re wanting conduit put through because they have already run the line for the Ethernet and I’m supposed to call them tomorrow and let them know if we can get that conduit in the next few days,” 911 Director Patsy Ledford told the board.
She also said 911 “can’t keep on waiting” because the system will be online soon.
The board members were concerned that if the wiring and equipment for the new 911 system is installed in the current location, the county could incur a significant cost to relocate the equipment, both old and new, to another location. The state will pay for the cost of the initial installation of the new system, but the county would have to fund the cost of moving the system to another location.
Ledford also told the board that moving the 911 equipment to another location would be difficult.
“We are going to have to have a building, it’s going to need to be wired for the generator,” she said. “It’s not just pick us up and move us.”
The Building and Grounds Committee met following the adjournment of the Emergency Communications District Board and continued to discuss possible solutions and develop a plan.
One possible location mentioned for the relocation of the 911 offices was the jail annex.
“I make a motion that we ask for proposals from local architects/engineers to evaluate environmentally, structurally and to recommend the cost for repairing it to use it as it is it, the cost and feasibility of moving them (to the annex) that cost and changing the area here to usable jail cells,” Commissioner Doug Bowman said.
The committee agreed with Bowman’s motion and decided to issue a request for proposal for an architectural firm to perform a study and environmental study of the building, as well as provide estimated costs for repairing the building as well as moving the office spaces.
“We’ve got to get some information so we know what to do,” Hatcher said. “We don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy. We don’t want to jump the gun, spend a bunch of money and throw it away.”
The issue was discussed during the Unicoi County Commission Meeting on Monday. For a story of the meeting, see the story on this page.

By Keeli Parkey
Staff Writer
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