BELTON — The Bell County Central Jail renovations are in the final stages of completion and the facility will be ready to open when the Loop Jail reaches full capacity, Bell County Precinct 2 Commissioner Tim Brown said.
Major renovations began on the Central Jail, 111 W. Central Ave., Belton, when the Loop Jail, 1201 Huey Drive, also in Belton, opened in 2009. The inmates were moved out and the county started a $5.7 million renovation program, Bell County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Donnie Adams said.
The major work was completed about three years ago, Brown said. Plumbing was reworked, showers were repaired, the locking systems were changed, electronics were modernized, and heating and air conditioning were repaired, among other things.
All that remained were minor projects that could be done by maintenance crews and inmates, and that is the work that is being done now under Adams’ leadership, Brown said.
“Our staff has been cleaning and making sure that all the equipment is working so that the facility is ready to receive inmates,” Adams said. Some of that work included replacing light fixtures, old wiring and countertops, as well as painting.
“The jail’s been vacant for about three years, and it’s gotten musty smelling,” Brown said. “The Central Jail is very different from the Loop Jail. It’s like a jail — dark and complete with steel bars. It’s not a fun place to be.”
Jan. 1 is the target date for total readiness, but the date to move inmates in is not set in stone, Adams said.
“When we do that depends on the Loop Jail population,” Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said. “That may be within the next few months. But the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 has accelerated the need for reopening Central Jail.”
Adams explained that 17-year-olds in Texas are considered adults, but federal law requires them to be housed away from older inmates. Opening the Central Jail will give the county the capability of doing that more effectively.
“The plan now is to open the first floor and the south half of the third floor. We have to open the south side of the third floor because the main control is located there,” Adams said.
The Annex Jail, also at 111 W. Central Ave., opened in the 1950s and has 183 beds. It will one day run out of its life expectancy, Adams said. It houses minimum-security inmates.
The Loop Jail has 634 beds, and the Central Jail has 523 beds. In 2014, the average population per day is 701 inmates, Adams said.
“For a while, the inmate population was growing at a rate of about 50 inmates per year, but that figure reduced somewhat the last couple of years,” Brown said. “Now it’s creeping back up again. We’ll stall opening Central Jail as long as we can, but we have to stay in compliance with the law. Hiring and training have already begun, so we’ll be ready to reopen Central Jail when it’s needed.”