Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Decades long delay in jail construction costs millions

Citizens committee faced with task of selling a mistake

The lividity of Dr. Bratcher's white hot anger burns through
the telephone line.

His mood does not become him. He is normally a man of
extremely good cheer.

Present chores have made him a little less cheerful these
days when it comes to the subject of the jail and its

He has been tapped to spend many, many hours wrangling over
the issue of building a new jail, a hurry up and wait
project forestalled and prolonged for nearly a decade by the
obstructionist tactics of politicians and citizens opposed
to spending tax money on housing criminals when it could be
so much better used to maintain roads, bridges, buildings
and other public works that serve free men and women.

And yet, these officials insist on "transparency" as they
enter the cusp of a bureaucratic season of regulatory
condemnation of the neglect of yet another public facility,
the Bosque County Jail.

They have appointed a citizen advisory committee to study
and then sell the project to the public at a series of town
hall meetings, the first of which will take place Thursday
evening at Meridian Civic Center at 6:30 p.m.

Tom Bratcher is a busy man. He has many responsibilities.

Serving as the Bosque County Republican Chairman Elect, Dr.
Bratcher is a mathematics professor at Baylor University, a
Ph.D. who heads up a doctoral program in the pure
mathematical science of statistics.

He speaks of the truth of the matter of a jail building that
is far too small to meet minimum state standards of the
regulatory commission charged with riding herd on the
conditions of local incarceration.

Due to heavy rains, water has cascaded through the rock
strata of the hill upon which the Courthouse and downtown
Meridian is located. The flow of water chronically invades
the sewer pipes and floods the jail, causing filthy water to
percolate up through the commodes and sinks. Roof leaks
cause rainwater to stream down its pre-cast walls and soak
electrical junction boxes and circuit breakers, shorting out
emergency alarm systems for fire, smoke and escape.

Built in 1972, the building and the Sheriff's offices have
become a dungeon from hell complete with oubliettes that
overflow with the pestilence and viruses of dread disease.

In the rainy season, it's a constant project to keep it
pumped out, dried and disinfected. Hydrology being what it
is, gravity and static surface tension take no holiday when
it comes to water seeking its lowest level.

The jail was built below the 100-year flood plain of the
Bosque River bottoms.

This is the proverbial place where they throw you in jail,
but not only in jail - under the jail. Under the jail in
this case becomes part of the watercourse of a major
tributary to the Brazos River system, the Bosque. Building
or no building, the river is going to come on through.

The word bosque is Spanish for woods, less charitably known
in Spanish as the sticks. That is what the word means. The
conquistador cartographers inscribed it on the entire area,
most particularly the thickets that border the river.

"The truth is," said Dr. Bratcher, "all this could have been
fixed some time in the past - was it four, no five years

"They decided to do a patch job on the building that cost
about $250,000. It didn't work. You see the results.

"They could have built a brand new state of the art building
for about three, three and a half million dollars at the

The price tag on the best case, lowest cost solution at this
point is about $9.75 million, according to the architect,
the building contractor and the debt management and
securities specialist hired to tend to the project.

Dr. Bratcher is angry and disgusted. He can't hide it. A
reasonable man, a man of good will and honesty, he is
perplexed at the situation.

Asked if he intends to be at the Town Hall meeting, he
replies, "I have to be at the meeting. I have to be at all
the town hall meetings."

It's part of the deal. He and nine other fellow citizens
have been charged with shepherding the process through to
its conclusion, to serve as advisors to the County Judge and
the Commissioners' Court.

There is no doubt. The State of Texas will condemn the
Bosque County Jail for its inadequate space, filthy
conditions and security problems if nothing is done.

Meantime, the clock takes no holidays.

With every day that goes by, the bill gets higher and higher
due to rising interest rates on debt service, costs of
materials and weather conditions.

Citizens could force another delay if they gather the
certified signatures of 5 percent of registered voters and
petition for a bond issue election on November 2. Such a
move would trigger postponement of financing and
construction by at least a year, something that
knowledgeable observers estimate could result in an
increased cost of anywhere from three-quarters of a million
to a million and a half additional dollars in material,
construction and debt service costs.

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