Finding a location for a new Spokane County jail site moved forward in a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 25 with the results of the qualitative analysis portion of the current Essential Public Facility siting process. The top three locations will move forward to the weighted analysis stage, which will last through November.
This marks the second time the county has gone through the siting process to determine a new jail facility, following the 2009 process that resulted in two facilities split between downtown Spokane and the West Plains, off the Medical Lake I-90 exit. The introduction of a new location possibility, put forward by Spokane International Airport, was the catalyst for this new process.
Located on Geiger Boulevard across from the Waste to Energy Plant, the location has consistently scored at the top of the EPF siting process, including the latest qualitative analysis portion. Following the SIA site were locations on West Electric Avenue and South Thomas Mallen Road, and the gravel pit near Spokane County Raceway on Sprague Avenue in Airway Heights, across from the state Airway Heights Corrections Center. Only one location east of Spokane ranked in the top five, located at the terminus of North Tschirley Road, between North Flora Road and East Euclid Avenue.
This time, the minimum of 10 sites were evaluated, seven of which were west of Spokane. Once selected, the final location will be expected to accommodate for future growth, looking to at least 25 years of use.
In the qualitative analysis, factors like present and proposed population densities of areas surrounding the site, the presence of historical and cultural sites, site design and spin-off impacts were included in the final ratings.
Arne Woodard, a city of Spokane Valley councilman, said the emphasis placed on having a regional facility for those cities currently contracting with the Sheriff’s Office was a positive item. He also hoped the facility would have plenty of public transportation and be easily accessible for visitors.
The Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing Tuesday, Dec. 4 to discuss the top potential sites from the current process. The previous downtown Spokane and West Plains locations have also been held for possible discussion in the future.
“Not all the sites are included because some of them are no longer available,” project consultant Jim Kolva said. “Also there was a decision by the County Commissioners to split the project into two projects: the corrections facility and the community connections facility.”
Since the downtown Spokane location was already nailed down, Kolva said the current process focused largely on housing for low-risk offenders. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said a new West Plains facility wouldn’t be expanding beyond what already exists at Geiger.
“You can basically forget about the sites we’ve looked at before,” Kolva said.
A contingent of the No New Jail group was at the meeting, stating they didn’t believe the siting process was fairly taking other locations into account, and that the price tag was too high.
“The process is fixed,” Michael Poulin said during the public comment period.
A new jail facility would largely be funded by a proposed voter-approved increase in sales tax. Originally having a price tag of nearly $265 million, the cost has come down significantly during this siting process, even further from the $199 million estimate during the 2009 process.
Aft the meeting, Knezovich said annual savings could average $2 million with a new facility, as maintenance requirements coming from the current Geiger Corrections Center would drop and staff safety would be improved.
“Those people who work in those facilities are at risk,” he said.
The existing lease at Geiger Corrections Center ends in 2013.
Currently, both the downtown and Geiger sites have been at critical or emergency booking levels for an entire year, with the exception of a few days. Due to the high amount of offenders, and the lack of space for those who are incoming, many are sent through the judicial system and then allowed to go back into the public.
“People that have warrants aren’t being picked up,” Knezovich said.
Washington state, he argued, had also lessened its responsibilities in the area of helping with mental health cases, adding to the difficulty. Combined with cuts from the state, it has proved more difficult to keep criminals off the street and provide them with services to prevent offenders from repeating crimes once released.
“The only way to fix these systems is to have the revenue to do it,” Knezovich said.
James Eik can be reached at email@example.com.