Ground could be broken as early as next spring on a $19.5 million expansion of the county jail after Sheriff Toby Trowbridge urged the Board of Supervisors to take action.

The supervisors on Monday voted to authorize the creation of a master plan for a new jail building and housing units.

This master plan would build a new jail administration and support building, one large new housing pod with 288 beds, and two separate dormitory facilities for trustee inmates.

Total bed capacity would increase by 209 beds. Currently, the detention center can hold a maximum of 526 prisoners.

A $4.1 million juvenile justice facility is also scheduled to be a part of the master plan, although no concrete plans and specifications for this facility have been decided upon yet. Such a facility was not part of the $19.5 million cost estimate.

Gary LaRose, a technical services administrator for the Dean and Dean Associates architectural firm in Jackson, said that blueprints could be finished by the end of the year, and construction could go to bid thereafter.

LaRose did advise against starting construction in December or January, even if a construction agreement is reached.

A final decision on whether or not to authorize construction may rest with the next Board of Supervisors, however. The next board starts its term on Jan. 1 of next year.

LaRose made a similar presentation to the board on March 26. At this meeting, some members of the board indicated that it could be several months before a final plan would be agreed upon.

District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin, for example, said he thought such a decision should be left up to the next board.

But the supervisors authorized the plans on Monday after hearing from Trowbridge.

Trowbridge, after reviewing the three different expansion plans presented to the board, recommended the $19.5 million option, the largest expansion plan made available.

The other plans presented to the board by LaRose would expand bed capacity by 144 and 149, and would have cost $16.7 million and $17.8 million, respectively. (The second option would also have involved the demolition of the existing jail and the construction of a new jail facility.)

Trowbridge had said in the past that while he did not have a strong preference among the three options, he did want the supervisors to make a decision soon.

"We've been trying to get by with [the facilities] for the past few years," Trowbridge told the board on Monday.

He noted that the jail was last renovated in 1991 but has not been improved since.

He said that while the plan to increase bed capacity by 118 and construct a new jail was "a fine option," he was worried that if he did not build separate housing for his trustee inmates, they could be removed from the facility.

District 2 Supervisor Tim Johnson came out strongly in favor of the largest jail expansion option.

He said that it was what the sheriff was looking for and what the county needed, especially in the future as the county's population grows.

"It's going to provide more space for the county and for the sheriff's needs," he said. "I just did not want to be in a situation where space runs out."

District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks and District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin both argued in favor of including a juvenile justice facility in the master plan.

"I'm committed to a juvenile justice facility first," said Banks.

Such a facility could include 50 beds and a court for juveniles, although LaRose pointed out that such a court may not be necessary. Johnson also said that 50 beds may not be required.

Griffin, who has vigorously campaigned for a juvenile facility, said he was happy about the inclusion of the juvenile justice facility but unhappy about the need for it.

"I'm never happy when we have to spend $20 million on jails," said Griffin after the meeting.

Board President and District 3 Supervisor Andy Taggart said that financing the construction was still an open question.

When asked about a possible bond issue to cover the expansion, County Comptroller Mark Houston said that the county is currently just over 50 percent of its bonding capacity.

By law, this bonding capacity is 15 percent of the county's assessed value, which stands at approximately $1.1 billion.

"It's a real question that's got to be answered," said Taggart about funding the project.