In what would be a novel move for Virginia, the superintendent of the Prince William/Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center recommended yesterday that his governing board study the feasibility of hiring a private company to build and operate an addition to the jail.

Superintendent Richard Kiekbusch presented his proposal to the board last night in response to crowded conditions at the jail.

Kiekbusch said he has few options. The jail, which was built to house 175 inmates, averaged 310 in January and reached 336 yesterday, he said. At the current rate of growth, there would be nearly 500 inmates in three years, jail officials have said.

The county, which is responsible for about 80 percent of the jail's operating costs, has initiated action to provide for permanent expansion of the jail. But it might take at least three years before a planned $7.2 million addition is completed, Kiekbusch said.

County Attorney John Foote said that the officials are aware of the problem and are willing to discuss alternatives, but Foote added that the county is short of money and that any jail solution might be difficult to finance.

Kiekbusch estimates that it would cost $1.7 million in construction money to house the current overflow. Futher, he said, $884,000 in salaries is needed to hire 29 guards to add to the present force of 112. He said in an interview that county officials have told him it is unlikely that money will be available in the next county budget.

"I'm not going to sacrifice an officer because of the situation," Kiekbusch told the jail board during a recent meeting. "We can't have 300 inmates walking around here."

He has looked to the private sector, Kiekbusch said, because it might be able to move more quickly than local government. One firm suggested that it could have a facility built and operating within 120 days of approval, he said. Based on preliminary discussions with several firms, Kiekbusch estimated that the jail board could contract with a company for $1.4 million a year.

However, most of the money would have to come from the same county and city budgets that are currently under stress. Further, state officials said, General Assembly action might be required before the county and city could contract for private jail construction and services.

Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Pennsylvania have local jails that are privately owned or operated, according Diana Travisono, a researcher with the American Correctional Association.

Nationwide about 20 companies are involved in operating jails, Kiekbusch said. Four companies specializing in jail operation have been contacted, he said, and two have submitted preliminary proposals.

"The proposal in Prince William would be the first of its kind in Virginia," said Carlton Bolte, Virginia Department of Corrections' chief of operations for community facilities. "This is new ground and I know we will have legal questions and also funding questions. The proposal may require a change in the state code."

Virginia's increasing inmate population, both at the state and local level, is requiring that the state "look at any proposal," said Bolte.