The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office is located on the first floor of this building in South Paris, while the Oxford County Jail is on the second floor. The county is planning to devote the entire building to the jail and move the sheriff's office to the former district court building nearby. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Oxford County is accepting bids for a company to overhaul its jail’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which will require relocating all inmates for up to a year.

The work will involve demolishing the heating and ventilation systems throughout the Oxford County Jail in South Paris; installing new HVAC systems throughout the facility; upgrading the electrical infrastructure; renovating parts of the building; and adding two isolation holding cells, according to the bid request.

The purpose of the project, which will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds, is to improve temperature control and air quality, said Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah. The jail, built in 1979, has never had its HVAC replaced. The isolation rooms will be used to hold uncooperative inmates or to separate inmates if there is an outbreak, Durrah said.

“We have some pretty major projects going on,” Durrah said. “I think we really took a look at what the county’s needs are, and we’re starting to fulfill those needs.”

Given that the county won’t open bids until Aug. 3, it does not yet have a cost estimate for the construction, Durrah said. It also does not yet know where inmates will go or how much it will cost to board them at another facility. But the county hopes for construction to start in the fall and anticipates boarding out inmates at the beginning of next year. The jail is licensed to hold a maximum of 47 inmates.

The jail had functioned as a 72-hour holding facility under a 2008 statewide jail consolidation plan, but two years ago it reopened as a full-time jail in part to keep prisoners closer to home. The jail will not be able to keep inmates at the jail during construction as it will require shutting down its electrical grid, Durrah said.

The county will also shift around offices to expand space for the jail.

The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office is currently located on the bottom floor of the jail, so it will move into the former district court building nearby, Durrah said. Then the jail building will be reconfigured, with jail administration staff relocating from upstairs to where the sheriff’s office is now. The isolation cells will then be built where jail administration staff currently work.

Durrah said he does not anticipate the construction changing jail staffing levels as inmates will still need to be processed and then driven to another location. When the jail is fully staffed, there are 21 corrections officers in addition to the jail administrator and assistant administrator.

“We may be repositioning staff and making different assignments for them, but I believe we’re going to keep the staff that we currently have,” he said.

Oxford County received about $11 million in total from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. So far it has spent almost $1 million, Durrah said. In addition to the HVAC project, the county is planning a $4.7 million upgrade to its emergency communications system, which is used by first responders but has dead zones throughout the county. The county will increase its number of radio towers to potentially 13, up from five, to expand radio coverage.

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...