EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series where Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway addresses issues raised by the local NAACP branch.
Following the news that Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway plans to retire at the end of this year, the local branch of the NAACP expressed concerns about county officials not being held accountable for their actions.
During a press conference on May 31, two topics raised by the NAACP were:
- The group believes the county should build a central aquatic center in Georgetown.
- Surprise over news that the county is reviewing options for major renovations to the county jail or the construction of a new jail.
Hemingway discussed both topics with the Georgetown Times.
A lifestyle sort of expenditure that the NAACP favors is an aquatic center or pool.
Hemingway pointed out that as the county worked on its Visions II plan more than a decade ago, a Phase II or Phase III element was to have been building swimming pools in several areas of the county.
“There had been four swimming pools kind of attached to the major recreation centers,” he said. “From day one of the Capital Improvement Plan, they were all designated to be outdoor pools.”
“Then, about two years ago when it came to the point of building recreation centers in Pawleys Island, Choppee and Andrews, that would have been the logical time to do it. But, when it became apparent they would be outdoor pools, then ‘Oh, no’,” he said.
The discussion then went to an indoor aquatic center.
About that same time, the Georgetown County School District had a $165 million bond issue, Hemingway said. “There was some discussion about an aquatic center. That had some traction. It all had to do with how the bids would come in, and what funds would be available. They have never come to a decision on whether or not to do it,” he said.
“Currently, none of the pools are included within the Capital Improvement Plan.”
Another point of controversy for many people is what they thought was a surprise presentation on May 7 about renovating the existing county detention center at an estimated cost of $26.4 million. Consultants Dan Mace and Todd Davis of Moseley Architects of Charlotte, North Carolina, also talked about a new detention center. Two choices were presented, with total costs up to $36.7 million.
There were some people who were caught unawares of a proposal for major work or replacement of the detention center.
“The sheriff has had consultants out there for probably over two years,” Hemingway said.
“Originally, it started out as a way to address overcrowding of the facility. When they got out to see the facility, they became aware of issues with plumbing, HVAC, a lot of things. Due to the age of the facility, its construction and so on, there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed, even without any expansion.”
“We’ve had to do some major plumbing repairs, and other costs,” Hemingway said.
‘At the same time, the population out there is going down. With a combination of things, we said, do we really need to expand? These discussions have been going on.”
With the long-term Capital Improvement Plan, there’s been a “placeholder” for the detention center of about $9 million, he said.
“What came about in this latest assessment, the biggest thing from a regulation standpoint, is we can’t combine pretrial and convicted, juveniles and older, male and female," Hemingway said.
“You need more space to segregate people based on the demographics of the prison population," he said.
“In their terms, it would be like putting lipstick on a pig, approaching $20 million, and still not able to expand it,” Hemingway said. “So that’s when a cost estimate was given to build a new facility.”
“Nobody would put that on their priority list,” Hemingway acknowledged. “It’s a necessity, something you’ve got to have, and you’ve got to deal with.”
“We’ve at least had some discussion about combining on a regional basis, like Horry County or somewhere else.”
“One thing is, you’ve got to transport these people. It could be several times a day. There are court sessions, like that, where you’ve got to transport people. At least on the surface,” he said, “it’s not feasible to transport them. The same thing would have to be done for bail hearings and that kind of stuff.”
“If that decision was made (to build a new facility), we’d probably go across the road adjacent to the entrance to the landfill site,” Hemingway said. “That was my thought if we got to that point.”
Hemingway said that currently, there is no mandate with a time frame that requires either renovations or building a new detention center.
“The issue has got to be addressed, regardless of what anybody thinks – the sheriff, administration, or anybody else. It’s got to be dealt with," he said.
Among the issues at the detention center are communications within the building, whether its between employees or communication between staff and visitors.
“A huge component of this thing is the HVAC system. The way that building was designed, it creates a heck of a condensation on the floor and everything like that,” Hemingway said.
“If you have to spend that much money, it makes sense to build new. If it were to be renovated, you would still have some shortcomings in the old facility that you didn’t address," he said.