In this day of tightening budgets and lowering county revenues, law enforcement agencies around the country are struggling to fund much needed replacements for antiquated infrastructure. In Idaho new full service sheriff facilities with detention centers, sheriff administration offices and dispatch centers are rare rather than the norm. In Blaine County after years of unrewarded effort, a modern facility which meets both current and future needs stands as a model for other jurisdictions.
“In the old jail, hallways were narrow and cramped; allowing inmates to reach through the cell bars and grab at guards or throw objects including human waste. The tight spaces made it difficult to respond to emergency situations, such as sick or injured inmates, leaving the county vulnerable to lawsuits,” says former Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. Femling led the cause for 17 years, planning, researching and winning over public opinion one vote at a time. After three failed bond attempts and a campaign to inform the citizens of the true need, Blaine County citizens finally passed a $10.5 million dollar bond in a special February 2007 election with a resounding 76 percent approval.
With all of the advance planning and work by the Sheriff’s Office, when the vote was counted, the bulldozers were ready to break ground. Designed by Lombard-Conrad Architects and built by Kreizenbeck Constructors, construction began in May 2007 on architectural plans that had already been examined in detail by a Transition Team. The Transition Team spent countless hours reviewing design plans to ensure that the architectural vision aligned with specialized law enforcement functionality. Policy and procedure were re-written to accommodate the new facility and the various phases of the transition were planned. Acting as the owner’s agent, BCSO ensured at every step that the building was being built to suit the department’s needs rather than adapting the department to the building.
Construction was completed in an amazingly short 13 months with a total cost of $11.3 million dollars. The new facility boosts state-of-the-art technology, energy saving LEED features and a staff saving design that has allowed the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office to transition from an outdated 8000 square foot facility to a modern 36,000 square foot facility with a minimal increase in staff.
The Sheriff’s administration offices now provide efficient, usable space for the Command Staff and support staff to do their jobs.
The Blaine County Detention Center contains sixty-six beds in the four jail pods providing minimum, medium and maximum security classifications, including four beds in special needs cells with negative air flow to prevent the spread of infectious disease. An additional twenty inmates can be housed in male and female work release dorms and up to four juveniles can be held in segregated holding cells, for a grand total of ninety beds. Each pod is equipped with video visitation consoles which allow inmates easy access to their visiting friends and family.
Throughout the facility modern technology is being utilized. A high-tech POLYCOM conferencing system allows for simultaneous audio and video conferencing with the various agencies including the County Commissioners, the Governor’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security. The Emergency Operations Center is equipped with emergency generated computer and communication equipment ready to respond to a crisis. The 911 Communications Center has five call stations equipped with individual controls and is self contained with all equipment needed to function independently. The building incorporates several energy efficient LEED systems including the use of natural light from the use of sky lights, LEED approved carpet and paint, and automatic sensor lights. Retro-plate flooring is used in the Detention Center to minimize maintenance for 50 years. Video Arraignment allows real time connectivity to the court. The inmate medical room allows nurses to dispense medications, and hold sick call in-house, instead of putting deputies out of service transporting inmates to and from area medical facilities. A Kiosk located in the jail lobby allows friends and family to deposit money on an inmate’s account without utilizing staff time.
The former Blaine County Jail built in 1972 had just twenty four beds and had segregation issues accommodating female or juvenile inmates. The current facility has a female dorm and two juvenile holding cells which eliminates both housing fees and multiple transports to and from other facilities. Current growth expectations predict the facility should meet county needs for at least the next 50 years. However, the design provided a designated area for a future expansion of three additional jail pods when needed.
“It wasn’t easy,” said current Sheriff Gene Ramsey, “but we were committed to providing Blaine County with a safe and humane facility for inmates to stay and deputies to work. The Blaine County Detention Center is part of a new generation of highly technological public safety facilities and we are grateful for Walt’s vision and drive to see it to fruition.” Ramsey said the new facility, unofficially nicknamed “Walt’s Building” by the staff, is one in which the citizens of Blaine County can be proud.