Bond details announced for new jail

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Editors note: A previous version of this story incorrectly explained how the proposed bond amount would be distributed amongst Shoshone County taxpayers if passed. This error has been corrected in the online edition and a correction notice will be present in the Wednesday, September 18 print edition.

Also, following a reworking of the numbers, the Shoshone County Board of Commissioners have revised the previously reported per year dollar amount. That amount has also been corrected in the story.

WALLACE — Following months of studies and planning, Shoshone County officials have announced their intent to propose a bond to the taxpayers in November that would pay for a new Public Safety building.

Spearheaded by Shoshone County Sheriff Mike Gunderson, the case for a new building is a multi-layered one that was originally spurred by his assessment of the office’s aging and obsolete infrastructure.

“Our facility is getting outdated,” Gunderson explained in an earlier interview. “Between the standards for keeping jail certification and keeping up with a changing society, it’s difficult.”

According to Gunderson, who spoke with the News-Press on the SNP NOW podcast, the proposed bond would cost Shoshone County taxpayers $75.79 per year per $100,000 of assessed property.

The decision to push for a new building was a calculated one for the Sheriff’s Office, as they considered every other alternative with the help of outside consulting agencies.

PLI Inc., a Coeur d’Alene-based law enforcement contractor, was hired by SCSO in 2018 to conduct a top-to-bottom inspection of the current Public Safety Building and identify both its strengths and weaknesses.

Originally built in the 1970s as a used car lot, the repurposed SCSO building and jail is much smaller in comparison to neighboring facilities — such as the Kootenai County Jail — and lacks several modern upgrades.

The nearly 40-page report presented by PLI Inc. detailed several glaring deficiencies noticed during their inspection — many of which relate back to the building’s decrepit state and outdated design.

From electrical and sewage to layout and basic facilities for employees — problems were identified everywhere. Details of the report can be found in the SNP story “Shoshone County Jail gets put under the microscope” on www.shoshonenewspress.com.

For Gunderson, one of the biggest factors for this decision was the possibility of losing jail certification.

“One of our jail certifications is where it came up,” he said. “Our jail certifier brought up several points of concern in our existing building.”

With a certified jail, SCSO can have contracts with state and federal agencies to hold their inmates for a price.

Gunderson was able to get the jail recertified within four months of taking office and estimates that it has brought in $200,000 to $250,000 a year for the county in just housing inmates.

“It is important for me to keep our jail certification because that’s what allows us to generate our revenue, allows us to make money for the citizens of Shoshone County.”

Once the decision was made that something needed to be done, the question was what direction needed to be taken.

With the help of Lombard/Conrad Architects, pricing for the three possible options was established.

The first option would be to rehabilitate the building (no expansion), which would come with a base cost of $9 million. Gunderson explains that this option was decided against because during this remodel, current inmates would have to be held in another facility that could take them for a price.

“They take about a year to do that,” Gunderson said. “Well in that year, we have to house everybody separately.”

This means that Shoshone County would have to pay an outside agency $80 per inmate to house them, making the total rehabilitation price closer to $11-12 million.

The second option of replacing the current facility with a brand new one at the same location was also decided against for largely the same reason as the first option. When including the cost to house inmates in another facility, replacement would cost roughly $17-18 million and the new building would have to be the exact same size as the last one due to limited space.

The final option of a new building at a new location will cost $22 million and, according to Gunderson, allow for the opportunity to help pay off the bond.

The proposed designs of the new Public Safety Building would call for a 98-bed jail facility — upgraded to modern designs — as opposed to the current 48-bed jail. A larger jail allows for SCSO to hold more out-of-county inmates and in-turn, bring in more money.

SCSO has already signed an intent letter with the Department of Corrections saying they would house 30 inmates at $75 a day.

“One of the things we are fortunate with this bond process is the Board of County Commissioners have already agreed upon 60 percent of overhead costs that will go directly back to the bond,” Gunderson said, “So we’ll be able to assist the citizens in paying (off) this bond sooner with the revenue we will be generating from holding inmates.”

New jail features that are not present in the current building include a juvenile holding area, dedicated separate cell blocks for men and women, several intake rooms (one padded), a command center to control most of the doors, and much more.

If approved by voters, inmates would remain at the current facility while the new one is built.

The proposed 32,000-square-foot building would be built on land purchased by the county near Frontage Road and the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes next to Spunstrand Inc.’s Factory Plant in Wallace.

Areas found in the old building such as office spaces, evidence rooms, a dispatch center and front entry lobby would all be present — but all of these areas would be drastically improved and expanded on in the new building.

An example of a major improvement would be the shifting of the dispatch and communications room.

The current structure has the communications room set as the heart of the building. It’s from here where dispatchers not only handle 911 calls and dispatch emergency personnel, but also control the doors of the attached jail and have a direct look into the intake area. In the new proposed building design, communications will no longer have to handle jail duties, as the jail section would be completely controlled by a separate control room.

“The design of the old building is the booking center is in dispatch, so if you have a combative inmate or someone screaming and yelling, that dispatcher can’t hear the radio and can’t hear 911 callers,” Gunderson said.

For those who wish to see the full jail assessment conducted by PLI Inc., a copy can be obtained from the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office or the Shoshone County Board of County Commissioners in the courthouse.

The bond for the new facility will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

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