COLDWATER, Mich. — When Captain Fred Blankenship got to the Sheriff’s Office and jail on Monday he couldn’t change into his uniform in the locker room, he said. There was water everywhere. And it all came in from outside.
“It was kind of like a monsoon yesterday with the heavy rain,” he said during an interview in his office. “We got rain here in Branch County for about 15 minutes.”
Gallons of water poured into the jail from a wall in hallway, he said. A few of the inmates noticed it coming under the door. So they alerted the staff. In minutes, they were cleaning it up.
“It’s a group effort when something like that’s going on,” Capt. Blankenship said. “We had about six or seven inmates or two or three staff members with squeegees.”
The jail’s nurse was using a broom to push all the water out, which was captured on video. He said they got about an inch of water from the rain and it flooded the workout room, cafeteria and the nursing area.
“There’s water under the filing cabinets in the sergeants office we really couldn’t get to last night,” he said. “So you put these air movers and air blowers in there to dry the water out but there’s so many cracks in this place you don’t know where the water’s going.”
Capt. Blankenship believes there’s a blockage somewhere in the drains, he said, and that the main problem is structural. The building was originally a nursing home back when it was erected in the early1950s. They builders used cinderblocks to create walls and rooms throughout the facility. Now, those same blocks are popping out and crumbling.
“I’ve had a few bricks on the floor right there actually that fell out this weekend,” he said pointing to the wall near the bottom of his door.
The building became the county jail in 1993 after it was abandoned for some time, he said. However within the last two years, the situation has gotten worse. All the water issues have only added to their growing list of problems he said.
“There’s asbestos on these floors,” he said. “Some of the hallway floors have asbestos.”
Capt. Blankenship said to fix the problems they’ve included a millage on the August 7 ballots to build a new jail. It’ll be next door and will house double the inmates and staff that it holds now.
“The average person is going to pay between $60-$70 more a year on their taxes,” he said. "If nothing happens and we don’t pass this, we’re going to have to put a lot of money into this building.”
But they’re hoping it passes, said Sheriff John Pollack while showing FOX 17 the blueprint of the proposed new jail. The project will cost at least $20,000,000 to build and finance and will take two years to complete. The old one, soon after, will be demolished.
“I worry about the inmates,” said Blankenship. “I worry about the staff. Something just needs to be done.”