The coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may affect the progress of some Pasco County initiatives, but at least one is moving forward as scheduled — a $128 million expansion of the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center, off U.S. 41 at 20101 Central Blvd., in Land O’ Lakes.
Project design is slated to begin sometime in May, with construction slated to begin in December 2021 and continue through fiscal year 2023 — generally matching original timeline projections, county officials say.
A finalized agreement with design firm HOK and construction management firm Moss & Associates is being reviewed by the county attorney’s office, and should be complete by the end of April or early May.
“We’re on track with where we hope to be,” Pasco County facilities management director Andrew Baxter said, in an interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
The expansion will add 1,000 new beds plus major upgrades to the jail’s central services, including medical, laundry, kitchen, intake and administrative facilities to meet a larger capacity. The project is funded through general obligation bonds that Pasco voters approved in November 2018.
When all is said and done, the expansion could total “somewhere in the neighborhood” of 200,000 square feet, Baxter said.
The jail facility presently measures 352,700 square feet and houses 1,432 beds. But, it’s been operating over capacity, as temporary housing brings the maximum population to about 1,900 inmates.
Baxter noted renovations to central services will be built to withstand an inmate population of well over 3,000 — which a facilities master plan indicated may happen by year 2034, and when another bed space addition likely will be needed.
In other words, once 2034 comes around, Baxter said the county won’t again need to expand the medical unit, kitchen and other essential services, just the housing space.
The facilities management director observed, “It’s just building housing at that point (in 2034), which is a little bit easier task to undertake than trying to operate a jail when you’re disturbing all the central service activities.”
The forthcoming upcoming expansion is expected to be a phased project, with new structures coming to the front and back of the jail, followed by interior renovations into the existing jail.
Ensuring the jail remains fully functional through build out is “one of the challenges, and quite honestly, one of the really fun attributes” of the multi-year project, Baxter said.
“The jail is a no-fail facility, and we must keep it running 100% all the entire time while we’re doing the construction activities,” Baxter said.
Repurposing some areas as construction goes along is a possibility. For instance, once a “correctly-sized” kitchen comes along, the old kitchen space may then be transformed into a medical facility, Baxter said. But, those are just some ideas at this point.
The detention center was built in 1991.
Since then, there have been multiple expansions — including a 6,700-square-foot minimum security annex in 1999, then a 96,000-square-foot addition in 2010.
Jail institutes COVID-19 precautions
Well before shovel hits dirt on new construction, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office has gone about implementing new practices to help prevent COVID-19 from entering the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center — both for the safety of jail staff and inmate population.
The sheriff’s office is following all recommendations from the National Institute of Corrections, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Amanda Hunter, the agency’s lead public information officer, wrote in an email to The Laker/Lutz News.
Every new inmate is screened upon intake and, when needed, isolated and tested for COVID-19; inmates are selected for testing based on answers to CDC-distributed questionnaires.
When it’s determined an inmate will be tested, the inmate is placed in a negative pressure cell while awaiting test results.
Due to this protocol, jail staff has already tested several new inmates, but all tests have come back negative as of April 20, Hunter wrote.
Published April 29, 2020