Cooke County is adding homes and people, which means its jail will need to expand over the next few years to handle more prisoners.
Sheriff Ray Sappington told the county’s Commissioners’ Court Monday that his jail is big enough to handle the business it has now, but that probably won’t be the case in a few years if Valley View and the rest of southern Cooke County continues to grow as they have recently.
Sappington said the 212-bed facility handles 162 prisoners per day on average currently; however, he said configuring the space to effectively segregate female prisoners actually limits overall capacity to around 190 beds.
“There’s 300-400 new homes coming,” said Sappington, who is nearing the end of his first year in office. “Growth is coming; I don’t think there’s any doubt about that … it would be to our benefit to start thinking about that now.”
The sheriff and the commissioners each made it plain that the county doesn’t need a new jail; rather, the existing building has room to grow – there are about nine acres of undeveloped land on the jail property off U.S. 82 in northwest Gainesville. That is enough room to add another 48 to 192 beds there, plus more office space for Sappington’s law enforcement staff.
“We can build onto what we have,” asserted Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Snuggs.
The county is in line to receive over $8 million in federal stimulus funds over the next two years from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress. Commissioners hesitated to say if that money could be used to expand the jail’s existing footprint – they said guidance from state and federal officials hasn’t been clear about that – but County Judge Steve Starnes said he believed the money could be used for planning purposes. That, in turn, would lessen the amount of financing needed to build whatever kind of expansion the commissioners and Sappington settle on over the next several months.
As for a price tag, that depends on exactly how much new space is to be added. Starnes posited that it could cost somewhere around $4.5 million – depending on how big the expansion would be.