Jail in need of new HVAC system

CASSOPOLIS — After years of placing the topic on the back burner, county leaders are looking to tackle ongoing issues with the heating and cooling system inside the Cass County Jail complex.

Cass County Building and Grounds Director Dave Dickey discussed the problems with the jail/sheriff’s office building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, during the county board of commissioner’s meeting Tuesday in Cassopolis. The maintenance director had initially planned to ask the board to approve a contract with Trane for $96,000 worth of improvements to the jail heating system, but the motion was taken off the table when Dickey told the board that price estimate would need to be updated.

The jail building, located at 321 M-62, Cassopolis, has been suffering from problems with its HVAC system for several years, Dickey said. Recently, the control system that provides air to the building through three handlers has failed, resulting in wild temperature fluctuations throughout the building.

Sheriff Richard Behnke

Sheriff Richard Behnke, who was in attendance during Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting, said that his office has had temperatures ranging from 86 degrees one week to 62 degrees the next. This issue has occurred in cell blocks as well, he added.

“It is creating an unhealthy environment for [inmates] to be in, plus for our employees,” Behnke said. “It is not really helping their morale.”

The sheriff said that repairs to the jail’s HVAC system could have positive benefits for the building’s energy efficiency, as, at the moment, staff are frequently opening up windows in order to cool their offices.

The jail’s current system was installed in 1988. As replacement parts are either unavailable or obsolete, repairs are becoming increasingly difficult, making the proposed upgrade the best choice available to the county, Dickey said.

The upgrade would be done in three phases. The first, and most important, would be to fix the air temperature control system, which would control the fluctuations the building is currently experiencing.

The second would be to replace the 60 variable control boxes throughout the building, and the third would be replacing the air conditioning and boiler systems.

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