Col. Martin Kumer, the Superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, told City Council Tuesday that he wants to give the structure he oversees, which opened in 1975 on Avon Street Extended, a $49 million renovation.
Renovation to the jail, built to hold 329 inmates, includes 40 beds to be part of a mental health and segregation unit.
While the matter wasn’t slated for a public hearing, several speakers took advantage of the public input portion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting to oppose the proposal.
“I do not support those 40 beds,” said Kate Fraleigh commenting via Zoom. “Mental health units are solitary confinement by another name.”
Retired University of Virginia phlebotomist Gloria Beard, contending that 44 percent of inmates are mentally ill, also opposed Kumer’s plan.
“You just can’t get well in a cage,” said Beard. “What is needed is community-based care that does not involve the police.”
Kumer said the jail staff also supervises about 40 people sentenced to home confinement and contended that the controversial 40 beds are not a jail expansion but a manifestation of a better approach.
He ticked off a list of amenities that would make the existing jail better for its approximately 279 inmates and its 161 workers, including sound-deadening materials, stress-reducing colors and natural sunlight, things that he termed as “trauma-induced design.”
Other proposed changes include new classroom spaces and a new outdoor recreation space, as well as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning fixes necessary for a building in its fifth decade of service.
“We’re not going to add one additional bed,” Kumer said.
Kumer said the three localities that fund the jail, Charlottesville and Albemarle and Nelson counties, would see the state pick up one fourth of the tab.
City Councilor Brian Pinkston lauded the proposal as “more humane” than the existing jail.
Council passed a resolution endorsing the jail board’s request for 25 percent state funding. Kumer wants to advertise for designs next June and see construction through to completion by his desired completion date November, 2025.
The Council also had a first reading of its proposed ordinance allowing collective for employees. Several speakers urged the Council to adopt the ordinance, even as state law appears to limit the ability of municipalities to let an independent arbitrator decide fiscal matters.
“There’s a lot of in-the-weeds stuff,” said a clearly frustrated Councilor Michael Payne, who called the proposal one of the weakest in the state. “Where the ordinance is now I could not, in good conscience, vote for it.”
Councilor Juandiego Wade agreed with Payne that the matter was “really confusing” but said he wanted to support an ordinance to give “pizzazz” to the city’s ability to attract employees.
The councilors appeared eager to learn how other localities were dealing with their collective bargaining experiences and scheduled a second hearing on the matter for its Oct. 3 meeting.
In other business, Council proclaimed August 27, 2022 as “Dr. Alvin Edwards Day” for the man who who was a city councilor in the early 1990s, including a two-year stint as mayor. Edwards, receiving the honor in absentia, may best be known for having served for 41 years and counting as the pastor of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church.
The Council also proclaimed September 9, 2022 as “Minority Business Alliance Day” in celebration of a group that’s part of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In a final piece of commemoration — and taking a page from NATO, which first designated the day — the Council designated September 15 as “International Day of Democracy.”