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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Retaining walls are just beginning to rise at one of the region’s most expensive public projects in years as JA Street reaches the half-year point on the new Sullivan County Jail.

The Blountville-based contractor submitted the low bid in late 2021 for the long-sought project. Plans call for a 190,000-square-foot building on approximately three acres of land just behind the existing jail.

John Osborne, assistant to the Sullivan County Commission, said the project is on schedule so far.

While Mayor Richard  Venable expressed hope just two years ago that the jail could be built for $72 million, that estimate missed the mark by more than 20%. Street’s bid was $88.4 million and that was without several preferred options, including a starting capacity of 684 inmates.

Instead, the initial buildout will have finished space for 460 prisoners, with room to finish out the additional spots in the future. Osborne said JA Street is on track to begin setting steel in early November.

The new portion of the jail will have prefab steel cells that will slide into place. The cells have been completed and are being held by the manufacturer until construction here reaches that point.

The current jail’s layout is inadequate, and its capacity of 619 inmates is regularly exceeded by 50% or more.

The most recent statewide jail report shows that in July, Sullivan County was housing 999 inmates, putting it at 161% of capacity. Only the much smaller jails in Morgan and Hancock counties were more overcrowded, according to that report.

In February, Venable told county commissioners 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.

  • What: New jail addition to Sullivan County Regional Jail. 
  • Where: 140 Blountville Bypass — 3-acre tract behind existing jail. 
  • When: Groundbreaking was March 7, 2022. Contract calls for completion by early January 2025. 
  • Cost to taxpayers: c. $95 million. Includes preliminary architectural costs and furnishings. Excludes approximately $7 million in features cut from original specs.