In this day of tightening budgets and lowering county revenues, law enforcement 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 rarities rather than the norm. But in Blaine County after years of unrewarded effort, a modern new facility which meets both current and future needs has prevailed.
“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 formed in 2005 of key BCSO staffers. The Transition Team spent countless hours reviewing design plans page by page 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 balance of funding will be paid with county revenues. The new facility boosts state of the art technology, energy saving LEED features and staff saving design allowing the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office to transition from an outdated 8000 square foot facility to a modern 36,000 square foot facility with a minimum increase in staff. The sheriff administration offices now provide efficient usable space for the Command Staff and support staff to do their jobs. We have made our facility a place where employees don’t dread coming to work. The Public Safety Facility includes a Wellness Room for officers to maintain their physical fitness. The county provided the room; all the work-out equipment was donated or paid for by donation or forfeiture funds. Male and female locker rooms allow officers a place to change and shower before or after their workout.
The new 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 state of the art video visitation consoles which allow inmates to see and hear their visiting friends and family without a deputy being required to move the inmate to a visiting cell.
The jail’s features and technology will allow officers to focus on rehabilitating inmates, instead of making them come out angrier than they went in like at the old facility. A Central Control system allows the detention center staff to see virtually the entire jail area and reduces the number of staff needed to operate the facility. Central Control functions as the power center of the entire complex. Touch screen technology connected to 78 cameras provide real-time viewing and control of all intercoms, secured interior and exterior doors and sally ports, the outer perimeter and gates. Within the jail pods, Central Control has power over the lights, televisions, water, skylights and cell doors.
Throughout the facility modern technology is being utilized. A high-tech POLYCOM conferencing system, provided by a Homeland Security Grant, 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, which is expected to become operational in October, will be Phase Two compliant. Each of the five call stations has individual controls for lights, heat, air conditioning, desk height, and white noise. Each station is self contained with all equipment needed to function efficiently. The Communications Center also provides redundant back up to Central Control. The evidence processing room has pass through lockers and a fumigator for fingerprints, including a hood to eliminate fumes from strong smelling evidence or drugs. The building also incorporates several energy efficient LEED systems including the use of natural light from the use of sky lights, LEED approved carpet and paint, automatic sensor lights that turn on and off when not in use. Retro-plate flooring in the detention center will eliminate maintenance for the next 50 years.
Various staff saving design efficiencies have been included so that only a few new Central Control Operator positions were added to the Sheriff’s Office staff to manage the new much larger facility. Video Arraignment allows deputies to remain in the facility working instead of escorting inmates back and forth to court throughout the day. Inmates and the Court can both see and hear each other in real-time. A phone provides for private conversations with their attorney and a fax machine is set up direct to the court in case they need to sign any court documents. The inmate medical room which includes a waiting area, patient treatment area, restroom, medical office and medical records 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. Research is being done on “tele-medicine” which would allow the nurses to conference with doctors. The Detention Center administration offices were placed across from the Programs Room and the Booking area so that officers can easily supervise inmate activities. A Kiosk located in the jail lobby allows friends and family to put money on an inmate’s account without utilizing staff time.
The former Blaine County Jail built in 1972 had just twenty four beds and could not accommodate female or juvenile inmates. The new 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 new facility 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.