Muskingum County hopes jail feasibility study leads to funding

ZANESVILLE – Citing the condition and unsuitability for a renovation of the Muskingum County jail, DLZ, an architecture and engineering firm, recommended the county build a new jail during a meeting with county officials Monday.

Eric Ratts, the company’s principal architect, said during a meeting with the Muskingum County Commissioners that a new 400- to 500-bed prison would cost between $52 million and $56 million to build, with an additional 25% going to design and construction costs .

Problems with the current county jail arise from the fact that the building was originally built as an office building, with room for about 50 prisoners on the fourth floor and office space below, including a parking garage. A conversion in the 1990s turned most of the building into a 178-bed prison.

Citing an expected increase in both general and prison populations, DLZ recommended a new building capable of housing 400 to 500 inmates.

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The state Bureau of Adult Detention routinely inspects the prison and determines its capacity. “In my 14 years as sheriff, we’ve been through that on a regular basis, up to 200 if not over. It creates a dangerous situation, not only for inmates but for correctional staff as well,” said Matt Lutz, Muskingum County Sheriff.

Muskingum County commissioned DLZ to prepare a feasibility study for a new prison to support Ohio Department of Justice grant efforts. The county applied for, but did not receive, a similar grant from the department last year.

The plan identifies several defects in the current building, most of which are due to the building’s age and which the company believes are critical to immediate replacement, including parts of the fire alarm system. Others fall under a potentially critical category, including replacement of roof and indoor air handling units, and water and sewer pipes.

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This doesn’t imply a specific design, but does indicate that it should be designed large enough for decades to come without the need for expansion, but also the ability to add more space if needed. If the prison is laid out on one floor, it could be occupied by about 12 people. The current prison uses nine.

Ratts noted the importance of designing the new prison to provide additional space in the service areas to facilitate maintenance and renovation. While the pipes are hidden within the walls in most buildings, Ratts pushed for a design with a large area between the cell’s outer walls and the building’s outer wall so that the utility lines could be quickly accessed for repairs or replacement.

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The plan calls for a building between 115,000 and 120,000 square feet. Ratts said a 20-acre site would be ideal to accommodate expansion, but could be built on less. Lutz said he would like the building to be as close as possible to existing court infrastructure in downtown Zanesville, but no site has been secured for the new jail. He said he would like the building to be built on land the county already owns if possible. This would also reduce the overall cost of the building. If construction began in the spring of 2023, it would take about five years for the project to be completed, Ratts said.

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