Officials look for solutions to safety, maintenance issues at aging jail
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Apr 10, 2014 | 2075 views | 0 0 comments | 85 85 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new study finds that Grand County would save money in the long run if it replaced its aging jail with another facility. But the county might have to settle for a remodeling job until it can stash enough project funding aside.

A majority of Grand County Council members reached the consensus last week that the county should push forward with much-needed repairs to the existing jail, pending further review of the facility’s long-term needs.

Grand County Council member Gene Ciarus suggested that the county should start building up its funds and fund balances before it commits to the idea of building a new jail.

“I don’t think we ought to build one great big massive facility at this point,” Ciarus said during an April 4 council workshop that focused largely on the jail’s needs.

It could take the county years to pull together enough funding for a new building, but Grand County Sheriff Steve White said major repairs to the jail can’t be delayed for much longer.

“No matter what we do, some issues need to be addressed very soon,” White told The Times-Independent last month.

Grand County Facilities Supervisor Marvin Day agreed that the county must commit to some improvements in the immediate future.

“This jail can’t continue to function the way it is, safely,” Day said April 4.

White said he cannot discuss one of the jail’s biggest maintenance-related problems due to concerns about employee safety. But there is no shortage of other issues to talk about, from the jail’s leaky roof to worn-out flooring and kitchen facilities that are in “horrible” shape, according to Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson.

A draft impact fee plan from county contractor Horrocks Engineers estimates that it would cost about $1.5 million to resolve the most pressing maintenance issues at the jail. However, White said the actual numbers might be much higher.

For one thing, the plan does not specify how much it would cost to move the jail’s inmates to another facility during renovation work. Nor does it account for any unanticipated problems that might pop up as crews make repairs.

Beyond the jail’s short-term maintenance needs, it would cost about $4 million to remodel the 64-bed facility, according to the plan. In comparison, the plan projects that it could cost anywhere between $11.3 million and $17.5 million to build a new law enforcement center, depending on the design.

But the plan acknowledges that the $4 million figure is a lowball estimate.

If the county wants to bring the jail into compliance with updated building codes, energy codes or Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, overall renovation costs would undoubtedly increase, the plan states.

However, there would be serious drawbacks to refurbishing the current space and leaving it at that, according to the impact fee plan.

The jail, which was built in 1937 and renovated in 1992, is plagued by a number of architectural and design flaws, according to the plan.

Unsafe conditions inside the jail’s vehicle bay expose officers to unnecessary risks, and blind corners inside the jail itself pose additional threats to their safety, the plan says.

Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon said she doesn’t see any way around the latter concern.

“I don’t know how you renovate to deal with all of those blind corners,” Dillon said.

For the time being, however, Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll suggested that the county should stick with the current facility. She noted that costs to maintain or demolish the structure would add to the overall price tag for a new building.

“If we have the space, I don’t see how we could do anything else, because we still have the [current] building to take care of,” Carroll said.

Faced with substantial costs either way, Grand County Council member Ken Ballantyne joked that the county should look to tough-minded Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s 2,100-inmate Tent City Jail for inspiration.

“Couldn’t we follow a Maricopa County model?” he asked.

Not according to Horrocks Engineers, which identifies a new building as the most cost-effective option among several different possibilities it explored.

While new construction numbers appear to be “relatively expensive,” the plan suggests that county officials should consider other factors when they make a decision.

If the county built a new jail using modern designs, it would need fewer officers per shift, which would cut its operating expenses over the long term, the plan says. Likewise, a new building could incorporate energy-efficient features that would further reduce long-term operating costs, according to the plan.

By consolidating law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services under one roof, the county would also eliminate inefficiencies that slow down response times and create more maintenance-related headaches, the plan says.

Although renovation work would prolong the existing jail’s lifespan, the plan says there is not enough room on the existing 3.5-acre site to accommodate future growth. However, it does not consider whether the jail could be expanded upward instead of outward.

Grand County Building Official Jeff Whitney believes it’s feasible to add a second story to the current facility.

“I see no reason why we couldn’t,” Whitney said.

For now, at least, jail officials don’t have to worry about inmate overcrowding, although projections show that the facility will need 131 beds by 2060.

“Our numbers are low,” White said. “We’re golden.”

In fact, the jail is contracting with the state to house additional inmates at the facility.

Last year, the state paid about $122,000 to house approximately eight inmates at the jail, and White is hoping to increase those numbers this year.

“I wouldn’t hang my hat on it, but it’s an option that’s there,” he said.

However, state officials are very concerned about the current situation at the jail, and they may be reluctant to send more inmates this way, White said.

If the council is able to address those concerns in the short term, it’s still unclear how the county would pay for a new facility.

According to the plan, the county cannot charge impact fees to pay for construction work that addresses the jail’s existing needs. That funding source would be available to accommodate future growth at the sheriff’s office, though.

In terms of other possible funding sources, Jackson suggested that the county could take a cue from Emery County, which stashes portions of its mineral lease revenue into a municipal building fund.

The county could also look to the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the state’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) and bonds or conventional loans.

Before the council commits to any final decision, though, Grand County Council member Patricia Holyoak suggested that it has to consider her generation’s skepticism toward construction of new facilities.

“I think that the mentality of my age group in the community is, ‘everybody wants new, new, new,’ and that’s a really hard pill to swallow,” she said.

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