A new six-page proposal is giving insight into how the Oklahoma County Detention Center will spend more than $40 million in federal COVID-19 funds.
The list prepared by jail staff includes budget items for major renovations, PPE, air purification systems, televisions, staff radios and cell doors.
“In order to maintain proper social distancing and help stop the spread of COVID, it is necessary to reconfigure the jail in a way that was really not anticipated prior to COVID,” County Commissioner and Jail Trust member Kevin Calvey said.
The suggested overhaul of the nearly 30-year-old facility includes a $12.5 million renovation to the first floor, $4 million for a water management system and $1 million for PPE.
“I think it looks like it would be something that would help us become more COVID resistant and have ancillary benefits as well,” Calvey said.
Other items on the list include $400 thousand for radios because “radios can be difficult to keep clean in normal conditions and COVID-19 has increased this risk.” It also includes $60 thousand to “replace the existing televisions with two in each pod and better speakers so that inmates can social distance.”
Long troubled jail cell doors are also on the list to be upgraded because “cell doors are solid metal, requiring staff to fully open to deliver meals or medication, significantly increasing risk of viral spread.”
“Well, those are obviously small dollar items on the list,” Calvey said. “I would think that the bigger items, the ones that are going to build out space for things like intake and reception, medical, those are the ones that are going to be the most important it seems to me.”
Big questions remain on possible federal scrutiny over how the money is spent. County Treasurer Butch Freeman has repeatedly said he’s worried about a possible audit finding the expenses did not qualify as COVID related.
“That’s really a non-issue, a red herring,” Calvey said. “We can very easily account for that in compliance within the CARES Act.”
That’s because Calvey said if needed, most of the money could be spent on salaries which is explicitly approved by the U.S. Treasury.
The project plans also suggest using an Oklahoma State Department of Corrections contractor so that the county would not need to bid the projects out.
“It would not require compliance with the strict guidelines of the state’s competitive bidding act,” Calvey said. “It doesn’t mean that you don’t go out and try to get the best bang for the taxpayers bucks, we will certainly do that. We will certainly spend these funds in a way that is cost efficient for the taxpayers.”
The Oklahoma County Jail Trust will vote on the plans at a meeting Monday at 1 p.m.