Spokane International Airport officials said this week that they may offer the Geiger Corrections Center a new home in the airport business park.
The proposed site is immediately north of Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant on the eastern edge of the airport property, at 2900 S. Geiger Blvd.
Spokane County officials welcomed the overture, which could eliminate a risky land acquisition.
“This gives us some options,” said County Commissioner Mark Richard, who has spearheaded a proposal to replace the Geiger Corrections Center and overhaul the county’s criminal justice system.
A plan to build a new medium-security jail near the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90 has been criticized because it would require rezoning 429 acres to accommodate a 40-acre jail site.
Moving that much land from rural traditional to light industrial zoning and expanding an urban growth area likely would generate a legal challenge under the state Growth Management Act.
The rezone was panned by neighbors, growth-management activists, jail opponents and the city of Medical Lake at a public hearing last spring. Since then, county officials have considered shifting the jail to reduce the amount of land that would have to be rezoned.
Airport Director Larry Krauter said he was concerned when he took over in April and discovered airport management had asked the county to remove the Geiger Corrections Center from airport land.
“I felt that we had an obligation to find the county an alternative on airport property, and we would do that for anyone,” not just for a tenant who is half-owner of the airport, Krauter said.
“I can’t say it is just altruistic, either,” he said. “They are an important source of revenue for us.”
The county pays nearly $500,000 a year in rent.
Krauter agreed the jail should be relocated. He wants to redevelop the current site for air cargo businesses.
Richard said the proposed location could shave about $3.2 million off the cost of a new jail because the site already has sewer and water lines and other infrastructure. The location also opens the possibility of heating and cooling the jail with steam from the garbage incinerator.
Richard said another advantage is that the jail would be almost 4 ½ miles closer to courtrooms and farther from West Plains cities that don’t want it nearby.
Richard is chairman of the Airport Board, but stayed away from this week’s discussion of the alternate jail site. Krauter said the rest of the board “reacted very favorably towards it.”
“The consensus of the board was that this was something that we want to move forward with,” Krauter said.
Next steps include determining whether the approximately 21-acre site will work for the jail and calculating its lease value.
Meanwhile, Krauter said he is “completely comfortable” with allowing the jail to remain where it is “for quite some time.”
Next August’s lease expiration poses “no looming deadline that would force the county to leave Geiger,” Krauter said.
County commissioners and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich are eager to abandon the dilapidated 1959 Air Force barracks, but lack the means.
A proposed $199.5 million bond measure was temporarily shelved in March so officials could continue looking for ways to make it more palatable to voters.
Current plans call for a 752-bed Geiger replacement, a separate 192-bed community corrections center and restoration of the Spokane County Jail back to its original 462 beds – for a total of 1,406 beds.
Richard and sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sparber, the project manager, said they are open to trimming or phasing in elements of the proposal.
However, Richard said, it is “imperative” to open a downtown community corrections center for classes and work-release programs designed to rehabilitate offenders and reduce the jail population.
At minimum, Richard and Sparber believe, the project must include the community corrections center, one 256-bed “pod” to replace Geiger, a new booking area at the main jail and new kitchen, laundry and medical facilities to serve the entire system.
Sparber said the community corrections building might start as an oversized “shell” that is filled in as needs require and revenue allows.