Friday, February 9, 2007

Design review of new jail slated for Feb. 20

County hopes to break ground on $13 million facility this spring

Express Staff Writer

Image courtesy of Lombard Conrad Architects The new Blaine County public safety facility, designed by Lombard Conrad Architects in Boise, is planned for the Airport West light-industrial park in Hailey.

Now that 76 percent of voters have approved a bond to help fund a new Blaine County public safety facility, what's next?

First is the city of Hailey's design review of the facility, which will house a new jail, sheriff's office and a consolidated dispatch center. That meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20.

The facility will be located on land owned by the county in the Airport West light-industrial park, next to Friedman Memorial Airport. Since the parcel is within Hailey city limits, the city needs to approve the design and planned uses of the building.

The city approved the design about a year and a half ago, before the process was put on hold due to legal issues concerning the funding of the facility.

"As long as they approve it, we will be putting the project out for bid shortly after that," said Russ Moorhead, of Lombard Conrad Architects in Boise, which designed the facility.

"We're hoping spring is a good estimate to actually start doing some of the site work," said Don Wright, operations manager for Blaine County. "We'll start coordinating closely with the architect, construction manager and city to get all this happening as soon as possible."

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, who has been trying to corral funding for a new jail and sheriff's office for 17 years, said his entire office "was very happy with the results of the election, and we're excited about getting this project off the ground."

Previous bond measures to fund a new jail failed in 1990, 1995 and 1996.

The measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass. While only 12 percent of the county's 11,632 registered voters showed up to the polls Tuesday, Feb. 6, an overwhelming majority supported the bond. Every Blaine County city approved the measure except Carey, where 66.22 percent of voters—just shy of the two-thirds majority—voted for the bond.

Femling said he was "feeling good" about the bond's chances of passing in the days prior to the election, "but you're never confident when it's a jail bond and a property tax increase."

"We felt we had a good plan and we felt we justified the needs pretty well," he said. "We're happy the voters agreed with us."

The new facility is estimated to cost about $13 million, of which $10.46 million would be financed by general obligation bonds.

County residents can expect an increase in taxes of about $2 per $100,000 of property value. In Hailey, where the average home price is $400,000, that's about $8 per year.

Femling said if there's one thing he's learned over the years, "it's patience."

But the sheriff hopes his patience won't be tested again.

If construction is delayed and outdoor work is not completed by next winter, Femling is concerned about the added costs that will be generated by heating the site.

"The earlier we can start, the better it will be," he said.

The target completion for the new facility, which will include 44 beds for regular inmates and 20 beds for inmates in the work-release program, is fall 2008. The existing jail, which Femling said is typically filled to capacity, has 27 total beds. The new building will be built to accommodate a future expansion.

Due to the cramped space in the existing 34-year-old facility, female inmates are being transported to Twin Falls. In the months leading up to the election, Femling and Blaine County officials repeatedly stressed that the current facility, which is in a heightened state of disrepair and lacks proper lighting and ventilation, poses a safety risk to inmates and guards alike.

To back up his claims, the sheriff's office offered free tours of the jail to the general public.

Femling said most people who took the tours were "horrified" by the conditions.

As for the fate of the existing facility in downtown Hailey, Femling said, "I don't think there has been a real plan of what will happen to that building yet."

Blaine County citizens will begin paying off the bond in December 2007.

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