A new cost analysis confirmed what preliminary estimates had already shown: A new Spokane County jail would be cheaper to build on undeveloped West Plains land but would be cheaper to operate on the county courthouse campus.
County commissioners on Tuesday set a May 12 date to hold public hearings on the three possible sites.
Two “essential public facilities” studies have found the courthouse complex is the best site if cost is not an issue. Private land in Airway Heights, next to the Spokane County Raceway Park, is ranked second-best in the new study, followed by private land near the Medical Lake interchange on Interstate 90.
Commissioners chose the courthouse site in May 2008 but started over when costs proved much higher than expected.
Commissioner Bonnie Mager said Tuesday that she wanted more information about costs at the courthouse campus site before scheduling next month’s hearing.
She was overruled by Commissioners Mark Richard and Todd Mielke.
With a proposed bond election a year away, Richard said the time will “go by in the blink of an eye.” Mielke said the “overwhelming majority” of questions have already been answered.
Commissioners learned Tuesday that a new six-story jail tower next to the existing jail would cost $177.1 million to build, not including other project costs.
A compound of one-story buildings would cost an estimated $151.2 million at Airway Heights and $152.7 million at the Medical Lake interchange, where more utility work would be required.
Total project costs, except for financing, are estimated at $265.7 million at the courthouse campus, $226.8 million at Airway Heights and $229 million at Medical Lake.
Financing cost estimates range from $110.2 million for the Airway Heights and Medical Lake sites to $127.8 million for the courthouse site.
Consultants say a courthouse jail would add $1.9 million a year to what it currently costs to operate the Geiger Corrections Center. Either of the other sites would add $3.3 million, reflecting the need to duplicate services and transport prisoners farther.
Sheriff’s officials believe they could reduce operating costs at the remote sites if corrections officers would agree to work 12-hour shifts.
For the sake of an apples-to-apples comparison, the study assumed all three sites would be built to their maximum capacity – as would be required for the six-story campus tower. However, the rural complexes could be built in phases.
Cost estimates for each site include money to demolish Geiger as required by its landlord, the Spokane Airport Board, which plans to cancel the county’s lease in 2013.
The airport is owned by the county and the city of Spokane, and those governments appoint airport board directors.
All of the proposed jail sites would involve some work on the courthouse campus, including renovation of the existing jail and expansion of the booking area.
With the existing jail reduced to 462 beds, and with 256 beds the county could rent to other governments, the overall bed count would be 1,798. The current jail was designed for 483 in 1986, but occupancy has approached 700.
Each site would include a community corrections building with 256 beds for short-term inmates.
The sheriff’s garage and the Department of Emergency Management would have to be relocated to accommodate a community corrections center on the courthouse campus. Plans call for a two-level, $14 million parking structure south of the courthouse because 270 precious parking spaces also would be lost.
That would require demolition of two small county buildings and relocation of several county offices.
Mager wants to explore less expensive possibilities for dealing with the parking problem, including putting the community corrections center in the privately owned Monroe Court building near the jail.
Through last year, the county has spent nearly $1.6 million to study its jail needs. That includes $992,962 for various consultants, $599,617 in salaries and expenses for the county’s “project team.”
One of the consultants, David Bennett, has an ongoing contract to help the county reduce its need for jail beds by overhauling its entire criminal justice system.
Earlier Tuesday, Mager dissented in a vote to appropriate $62,000 for a jail project public relations contract that will receive a public hearing May 4.
The contract contemplates only six months of work and may run out of steam five months before the election, but Mielke and Richard thought the project needed professional help right away.
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