BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Just days after three inmates escaped the Sullivan County Jail, county leaders said the jail could be starting construction soon.

The Sullivan County Jail has been wrought with overcrowding problems for years, but an expansion would add 560 beds in a new building connected to the Sullivan County Justice Center.

Last week, three inmates escaped the jail through an HVAC vent. Two of those inmates are now dead, but authorities are still looking for the third man, Johnny Brown.

At a December commission meeting, the county accepted a bid of over $90 million to construct the addition to the jail. Venable said Wednesday that construction could be just around the corner.

“We’re finalizing plans,” Venable said. “I think we’re going to be ready to break ground here within a month or two.”

Venable said if all goes to plan, the expansion should be operational by early 2025.

The jail expansion is expected to be safer and more secure than its aging predecessor. At that December commission meeting, Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy said the current jail had become a safety hazard.

“You know this jail was 30 years old, it’s run down, it’s a terrible design, it’s not safe for the staff,” Cassidy said. “This will be a good morale boost for these corrections officers, all of our staff, and the safety of the inmates too, and that’s what my constitutional duties are.”

Venable said the design will include HVAC systems separated from cells, better views of inmates, steel construction and sliding cell doors. He said all those were designed with security in mind.

He said last Thursday night’s escape would not have happened in the expansion.

“The new construction will not have any vents that could be used for escaping an area or a building or whatever,” Venable said. “If we had that, it wouldn’t have happened.”

After years of problems at the jail, plans to expand it are only coming to fruition now. Venable said the county was not in a financial position when he became mayor in 2014 to build.

“We’re ten years past when this should’ve been done,” Venable said. “I took over a government that couldn’t pay the bills on time, could barely pay the bills.”

Sullivan County commissioners originally set aside $80 million in bonds for the expansion’s construction. A bonus from the bond issuer brought their funds to $83 million.

After spending on preliminary costs, the cost of construction went up. Venable said the county now has a $13 million gap in funding. He said the county may be able to pay for that with American Recovery Plan funds.

“We have potentially addressed it with the American Recovery Plan Act funds to keep from having a tax increase on Sullivan County taxpayers,” Venable said.

News Channel 11 reached out to several Sullivan County commissioners about the expansion, but only heard back from Commissioner Angie Stanley, who is also running for mayor.

In a statement, Stanley said, “Our jail is 30 years old. It is overcrowded, understaffed, and in terrible condition. The new pod-style jail will improve the safety of our corrections officers and security for the inmates.”