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County debates holding rooms, space needs of new facility

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County's Board of Commissioners and law enforcement talked through details of the county's building project, with the primary concern being how to manage the facility's holding rooms.

The commissioners, Sheriff Randy Willis and other county officials met with architects from Klein McCarthy and building manager Larry Filippi, of Contegrity Group.

Allen Brinkman, a former Department of Corrections inspector and now a consultant on the county's project, addressed the holding room issues.

Klein McCarthy representatives and Filippi are scheduled to meet again with the commissioners during their regular meeting July 7.

The group, meeting in a work session, also discussed revised plans that do not call for extensive excavation and a retaining wall on the back side of the courthouse. The redesign is expected to save a significant amount of money, according to architect Scott Fettig.

The commissioners voted unanimously last month to move ahead on a building plan that does not include a jail project that generated controversy for several months this winter and spring.

The new project's costs were capped at $11.5 million.

The group hammered out details about space use within the project's law enforcement center and existing courthouse, which will be remodeled. Fettig noted that the current design's square footage will be less than the previous design outlined two weeks ago.

"It's about getting it down to the program and reducing costs," he said.

The holding rooms or cells could be a problematic aspect, but possibly only after their are built.

The Department of Corrections does not regulate the use of holding rooms, which in this project will be designed to hold prisoners before and after transportation or court appearances, or for short-term holding until the prisoner is transported to a jail.

If, however, prisoners are held in other that what Brinkman called a "9 to 5" situation, the county could be in violation of the classification for the rooms and the four rooms classified as a jail, at which time the DOC would regulate them. If that happened, the county could be forced to hire staff to operate the rooms to DOC standards, a potentially costly proposition. Operational costs, especially related to staffing, was a primary reason for opposition that led the commissioners to drop plans for a 20-cell jail as part of the building project.

Brinkman said that the rooms are almost identical to jail cells, and that on average, a prisoner could be held for about six to eight hours in a holding room -- he compared the rooms to a four-hour hold that cities are allowed to operate but which counties are not.

By keeping prisoners for any longer time, or by not separating prisoners correctly, the county could run afoul of DOC regulations.

"If you're going to abuse it, you're going to bring on the cavalry," Brinkman said. "... If it's a 9-to-5 operation, you're fine. If you abuse it, you're going to bring on the DOC. It's a self-inflicted-type thing."