Spokane County commissioners are still exploring options as they prepare to take final testimony on proposed jail sites.
A public hearing Wednesday will focus on a study that says, if cost didn’t matter, the county courthouse campus is the best site for a new jail to replace the Geiger Corrections Center.
The second- and third-best sites would be undeveloped land in Airway Heights, next to Spokane County Raceway Park, and near the Medical Lake interchange of Interstate 90, according to consultants.
Integrus Architecture and Jim Kolva Associates say construction would cost more at the courthouse site, in large measure because it would require a $21.3 million parking garage.
Commissioners heard several possibilities last week for satisfying the parking needs without a garage, but there was no silver bullet.
The three-level, 712-space parking garage would be on county land across Broadway Avenue from the courthouse and the Public Works Building. Two small office buildings would be demolished, and occupants would be transferred to other county quarters.
Jail operating costs would be lower at the courthouse site because duplicated services and transportation costs would be eliminated. Also, there would be better access to courts, attorneys and other important services.
But the undeveloped sites offer more flexibility for future expansion. It could be enlarged one 256-bed “pod” at a time, possibly without additional bond measures.
Wherever the new jail is built, an integral part of the project is a separate, 256-bed community corrections center where day-release inmates would receive classes, counseling and treatment.
Until last week, the “essential public facilities” site evaluation assumed the community corrections center would be near the new jail. But sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sparber, the project manager, suggested it might be better to build the community corrections center on the courthouse campus regardless of where the new jail is located.
That raised a legal question: Does the county site-selection ordinance for jails and other unpopular facilities allow commissioners to use two of the recommended sites?
Although the community corrections center by itself would require only 49 parking spaces, plans call for it to be built on a 263-space parking lot.
Another possibility that emerged last week was purchase of the privately owned Monroe Court office building for the community corrections center. The building at 901 N. Monroe St. adjoins the courthouse campus but is outside the “essential public facilities” study area.
Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Jim Emacio said the county might be able to use the building without another six-month, $70,000 study if the city of Spokane and surrounding property owners agreed.
However, he said that would be risky because people who formally opposed the courthouse site – including much of the downtown business establishment – might have standing for a lawsuit.
Officials also were looking into the possibility of shoehorning the community corrections center into a space next to the proposed jail tower, saving 263 parking spaces.
The Monroe Court building would not only save those spaces but add 170.
Don Coon, the county’s design and construction manager, says the Monroe Court building also would provide an entire floor of surplus space – about 26,000 square feet – that could be rented out or used for county offices.
Allowing 50 parking places for the surplus office space and 49 for the community corrections center, the 170-space Monroe Court parking lot would offset all but 210 of the extra spaces needed for the jail project.
Rough estimates are that the building would cost $11 million to $13 million and would require $11.7 million worth of renovation.
The cost would be about the same as a parking garage, and there still wouldn’t be enough spaces to meet the city of Spokane’s minimum requirement.
Coon said the county might purchase vacant land at the western edge of the courthouse campus for a 110-space parking lot. He estimated purchase and development cost at $1.1 million.