May 22, 2011 in City

Corrections buildings traced back to Air Force

Geiger center, focus of jail debate, built in late ’50s
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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People who want to replace the Geiger Corrections Center will have to quit referring to it as “old World War II Army barracks.”

Actually, the buildings are old Cold War-era Air Force barracks.

The distinction doesn’t change Spokane County officials’ argument that the 51-year-old buildings are run-down and unsafe – with long, narrow hallways in which guards or assault victims can be trapped.

“What it really boils down to is Geiger is old, it was never designed to be a jail, it doesn’t help me run an efficient operation and it’s dangerous,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

Based on available information, Knezovich and others, including The Spokesman-Review, have referred to the Geiger dormitories as World War II Army barracks.

Documents from the buildings’ current owner, Spokane International Airport, seemed to indicate the buildings were transferred to the city of Spokane in 1948 as war surplus.

A 1948 deed gave Spokane numerous buildings, including two “officers’ quarters” with the numbers currently assigned to the Geiger Corrections Center dormitories: 1330 and 1332.

It’s not clear how those numbers got attached to different buildings over the years, but retired Air Force Master Sgt. Don Kisamore knows there’s a mismatch.

The Priest River, Idaho, resident lived in one of the old Army barracks before he moved into Building 1332 when it opened in December 1959.

Looking at an aerial photo of the Geiger buildings, Kisamore can point out his room: “right-hand side, last window on the third floor.”

The 28-year Air Force veteran recalls that the “avionics pukes” were assigned to the other new residential hall, Building 1330.

“We were aircraft guys,” Kisamore said. “The avionics guys and the spark chasers and the odds and ends, we couldn’t stand them, so they put ’em in a different barracks.”

Later, Kisamore moved back into one of the two-story, wooden World War II barracks that was renovated for noncommissioned Air Force officers.

“That cost us eight bucks a month, with maid service, believe it or not,” Kisamore said.

Pressed for more information, airport officials found evidence that, in May 1951, the Air Force leased back some of the World War II buildings after they were given to Spokane.

A lease agreement shows the city gave permission in February 1953 for 22 of the old Army buildings, including 1330 and 1332, to be removed. The lease was modified in May 1954 to reflect the demolition.

Air Force documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review indicate the Geiger buildings were part of a giant construction program in 1958 and 1959.

Col. Leon Gray reported that the two “ultra-modern” barracks, built by Sceva Construction of Spokane for $668,000, were occupied on Dec. 3, 1959.

A $340,000 medical dispensary had opened nearby two months earlier. The dispensary now is the Geiger Corrections Center administration building.

Newspaper articles said the work was part of a $4 million project that included runway work and a new dining hall.

An October 1958 photograph in The Spokesman-Review shows construction of the barracks that now house county prisoners.

Col. James Dowling, deputy commander of the 4700th Air Defense Wing, conducted a ceremony when the buildings opened.

According to Gray, the wing commander, “The three-story quarters feature ceramic tile showers and two baths on each floor, and individual steel clothing lockers for the 200 airmen who will occupy each ‘hotel.’ ”

“For those days, it was pretty fancy,” Kisamore said. “They had central air and they had heat, and to go to them from those old wooden barracks was quite a step up.”

He said he went on to serve two tours in Vietnam, so the old barracks still look “pretty good” to him.

“Nobody shoots at you unless you try and escape,” he said.


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