NEWTON — The Harvey County Detention Center is old — old enough, in fact, that if it were a person it could buy its own beer.
Built in 1997, the detention center turned 22 this year. Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay joked that it must have been nice to be former Sheriff Byron Motter, who served the county when the detention center was first built. Instead, Gay is in charge of a building past its prime.
Since Gay took over as sheriff, the list of maintenance issues has continued to grow. Touring the facility, he pointed out pipes that continue to spring leaks, an outdated water heater that needs to be replaced, obsolete lighting controls and more items that need to be addressed, such as a new oven, washer/dryer and other standard appliances as old as the building itself.
While there seems to be a new item to address each day, Gay noted the integrity of the building is not in question — but when things break down, it raises other issues.
"I haven't seen anything that would compromise the security of the building. I haven't seen anything over there that makes me worry that somebody's going to escape; I haven't seen that," Gay said. "What I have seen, though, is if a toilet goes down in a cell we have to close the cell. If a door goes down for a cell, we're going to close the cell, so there are things like that that hamper our ability to house more prisoners.
"When we have cells down for reasons — toilets, sinks, things falling off the wall or breaking off the wall — that inhibits our ability to bring in more revenue."
Housing federal and state prisoners brings in substantially more funding than local prisoners ($71/$61 per individual compared to $35), helping take the burden off taxpayers, as Gay noted the other main source of finances helping with building repairs comes from the county general fund.
In 2020, Gay noted $125,000 is set aside for detention center maintenance in the CIP for the sheriff's office, with the largest chunk of that dedicated to address a rooftop A/C unit in dire need of replacement.
Recently, the sheriff's office found a company to do maintenance checks on its door locks and sensors — something Gay said the detention center will now try to schedule annually.
Maintenance comes with the territory — one step at a time. The sheriff's office and detention center are constantly addressing that and, while that is natural, he assured the public that will not affect the functionality of the jail.
"People aren't going anywhere in there. That's not happening," Gay said. "It's a very secure facility, but it's also 22 years old. Things are leaking, breaking, all those things that happen with a 22-year-old, 24-hour facility."