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The $24 million project to enlarge and modernize the county jail in Leonardtown was abandoned last month by a majority of the commissioners when bids came in $7 million higher than budgeted.

On Tuesday, $16.2 million set aside for the project in the county’s building budget was returned. Then the commissioners were told there was a new $9.5 million project proposed to fix the existing problems in the jail.

“Now we have to upgrade some things in the existing facility,” said George Erichsen, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation. That upgrade will be proposed for fiscal years 2014 through 2016 and will need commissioner approval.

“This is just the beginning,” Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said later Tuesday. The work will include new locks, cameras, “emergency repairs” and a heating and air-conditioning system. The jail has never had central air conditioning.

“We’re going to need a new roof,” said Capt. Mike Merican, corrections commander, as well as new ceilings, floors and boilers. Security glass and fencing in the gymnasium needs to be replaced. In the showers, “I got mold problems now. I got rust problems,” he said.

“None of it addresses space. We still don’t have enough space at the end of the day,” Merican said. There isn’t enough space for staff or educational space for inmates, he said.

The jail, opened in 1989, has an outdated capacity for 230 inmates. The expansion project would have doubled the capacity.

“Ten million is a lot to spend to address what’s broke,” Merican said.

Instead of moving inmates around the facility while the jail was expanded, “Now I gotta mix inmates with vendors,” he said while they do the renovation work, which requires security and overtime pay.

The state committed $6.2 million to St. Mary’s County for the jail expansion. That money was returned.

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said of the work needed, “It all had to be done. The big bill included all those things.” Now the work will be “piecemealed” instead. “We’re not going to get a new jail. We’re still going to have to pay in $9.5 million worth of upgrades,” he said. He and Commission President Jack Russell (D) voted against ending the jail expansion project.

jbabcock@somdnews.com