Jail opening delayed; board votes on bids

Replacement of low railings at the jail will cause costs to increase.
MERCER, Pa. -- Opening of the new Mercer County Jail will take place in mid to late August, Mercer County Prison Board members said Monday.
An earlier opening had been hoped for but slower than anticipated delivery and installation of some necessary items will cause the delay.
Also, the board, in a split vote, agreed to accept the offer of building architect L. Robert Kimball and Associates, Ebensburg, to take a $15,000 reduction in their contract fee to partially make up for ordering installation of railings which the board believes are so low they pose a security risk.
The Kimball offer will not pay the entire $31,000 cost for Erie Steel to raise the railings to 52 1/2 nches, but prison board members felt that accepting the offer would be best alternative. Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader voted against accepting the offer because, he said, "it should have been designed with a higher railing from day one."
Lower railings
The railings line an elevated walkway near inmate cells. They are 42 inches high, which would make it easy to push someone over, board members believe.
The problem was pointed out by Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Francis Fornelli in a recent visit of the building by representatives of the court, James Epstein, prison board president, said.
Epstein said 42 inches is the industry minimum standard, but he added that a jail should not be governed by minimum standards. He said the height of railings had first been discussed by the building committee at a 2001 meeting, but the issue was not pursued.
Board members also agreed to recommend acceptance of low bidder Chestnut Ridge Foam Inc., Latrobe, $22,942 bid for 285 regular mattresses and 85 suicide prevention mattresses for the jail.
Prison board members attending the meeting in addition to Epstein and Beader were Comissioner Olivia Lazor, and county controller Thomas Amundsen.

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