Short-term jail safety issues to cost $1.3 million to fix

Pitkin County commissioners give OK to fund upgrades

Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday approved $1.3 million in short-term fixes for the county jail to make it safer for inmates and employees.

The fixes, however, will more than likely not be incorporated into long-term plans for the Pitkin County Jail, which officials have said needs to be completely gutted and re-designed or rebuilt elsewhere.

“I hold out little hope that we can incorporate this fix into a new design,” said Board Chairwoman Kelly McNicholas Kury, who told her colleagues she’d been reading up on new jail designs and realized the current facility is very dated.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies transferred all long-term jail inmates to the Garfield County Jail in March as part of a plan to upgrade safety measures at the 30-year-old jail. No inmates currently are kept at the jail for more than 48 hours and the jail’s work release program — which allowed inmates to work during the day and report back at night — was temporarily canceled.

The $1.3 million in safety upgrades will renovate about 2,500 square feet of space, including three holding cells, two housing cells — one of which will be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act — the booking area, the work release area and the medical area. Construction on those areas will come in at $950,000, with furniture and other fixtures accounting for the remaining price tag.

The work release program for as many as six people at a time also would be reintroduced after the safety upgrades. The program, however, would switch off between allowing men and women to take part every four months, said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.

Jodi Smith, the county’s facilities director, also presented commissioners with a more expensive option that would have cost $1.8 million and included renovations to 4,600 square feet. However, commissioners chose the less expensive option because the upgrades likely could not be incorporated into a new jail design.

“It’s appalling to me how much it costs to take care of people who break the law, even for a couple of hours before we send them to Garfield County,” Commissioner Francie Jacober said. “But I recognize that everyone needs to be safe.”

Even with the $1.3 million in safety upgrades, the Pitkin County Jail will continue to house most inmates at the Garfield County Jail for the foreseeable future.

Pitkin County is currently paying Garfield County about $250,000 a year to house an average of 11 inmates. A new jail is not likely to come to fruition for a period of years because the county will initiate a community process similar to one undertaken for the airport and include all stakeholders, DiSalvo said.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, DiSalvo and others are working on a plan to completely gut and revamp the current jail, located behind the Pitkin County Courthouse, or relocate it out of town, perhaps near the airport. A new jail is estimated to cost somewhere around $20 million.

Construction on the safety upgrades should begin in early fall, DiSalvo said. It’s not clear how long the construction will take.