Emergency fix needed for jail A/C

A broken air conditioning system made for some uncomfortable prisoners and staff at the Piatt County jail last week, but after about two days without cooling, contractors repaired it at the Monticello facility on Thursday (Oct. 4).

Luckily, temperatures were in the 60’s and 70’s during the outage, and the A/C returned in time for 80 degree temperatures that rolled through late in the week.

Piatt County Sheriff David Hunt said the possibility of moving inmates to other facilities was an option if the HVAC outage had lasted much longer.

The jail and sheriff’s administrative center had been operating without air conditioning since the system failed on Oct. 2.

Piatt’s dispatch center had A/C the entire time due to a backup system.

“We can bring in outside air and condition it if it’s not too hot, but as the temperatures rise it’s a little harder to do that because the computer system is set to keep it at a certain temperature,” Hunt said.

As of Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 3), sheriffs in three neighboring counties hadn’t been asked for relocation assistance but all said they were willing to — and had enough room to accommodate Piatt’s inmates, which numbered about 30.

The Champaign County jail, which can hold up to 300 inmates, was less than half-full Wednesday with a population of 139.

Vermilion County had 251 inmates in a jail that holds 420. Ford County has room for 61 and a Wednesday population between 20 and 30.

Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said Piatt County has helped in the past by housing some of its inmates, particularly at times when the Urbana jail ran out of separate safe places to keep inmates who needed to be apart.

Walsh said Champaign typically calls on Piatt County in those situations, because its jail usually has extra space.

Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran said he’d also be glad to help if Piatt needed it. He said Ford houses federal inmates through the U.S. Marshals service on a regular basis and, every once in a while, puts up inmates from other counties in instances of a high-profile case.

When that happens, the county of origin is responsible for transporting each inmate to Ford and back, and the county charges roughly $45 to $50 a day.

“Usually, the sheriffs work it out,” Doran said. “It depends on the case. We don’t make money off of them.”

Walsh said Champaign County has had air conditioning issues affect inmates before, but “never for more than just a couple of days.” In those cases, the jail used fans to help keep conditions bearable.

HVAC issues are among a long list of system and equipment failures to occur at the 14-year-old Piatt County jail in recent months, Hunt told the county board building and grounds committee Wednesday.

The main issue — and likely the most costly — is with the air handler that failed earlier this week, along with two or three A/C compressors that are in need of replacement. Each would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to replace.

Also failing in the last two months at Piatt’s public safety building: a dispatch center battery backup with a $5,000 replacement cost, some security cameras, automatic door systems and the inmate ice machine.

Hunt thinks recent power surges have not helped the situation, including one on Sept. 21 that included a partial power brownout. He confirmed the jail does not have building wide surge protection, but also said some of the equipment that has failed may be due to its age.

“Some of this stuff has to do with the power surges, but some of the stuff is just getting old and needs to be replaced,” he said.

Piatt County Mental Health Department Director Tony Kirkman said his building in Monticello also lost a switch and “a few CPUs” after recent power surges.

The more relevant issue to him is the impact brownouts have on developmental needs clients at the facility.

“They have sensory processing issues, so when it’s flickering we’re really concerned people are going to have epeleptic issues, so we kill the lights as fast as we can,” said Kirkman.

Piatt County Board Chairman Al Manint gave Hunt the authority to do what he needed to get the A/C back on at the public safety building.

“At the end of the day, we have to have a building that’s functional,” Manint said. “Whatever it takes, Dave, to get it fixed, get it fixed.”

Committee Chairman Randy Shumard suggested the county also investigate a buildingwide surge protection system for the public safety building, which was completed in 2004.

IT proposal
A $65,000 to $130,000 IT upgrade proposal was tabled again by the committee while the county drafts its 2018-19 budget.

“What is the process to get funding?” said committee member Bob Murrell, who has indicated at previous meetings he feels the dual server upgrade needs to be fast tracked due to the age of current backup machines.

The new server portion of the project would cost about $65,000, and fellow committee member Ray Spencer said hopes are “we can fund those main components” as part of the budget.

The committee also held a closed session to discuss applicants for its maintenance supervisor opening, with the hopes of having a recommendation ready for the county board to consider on Oct. 10.



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