Idaho County says yes to new jail

Apr. 3—GRANGEVILLE — The Idaho County commissioners took "a huge step" Tuesday and awarded a $12.7 million bid to Kenaston Corp. of Lewiston to build a new jail complex.

Commissioner Denis Duman said the work is likely to begin right away and is expected to be completed in 450 days.

The commissioners have agonized over the decision to build a new jail for months after a draft plan earlier this year by the architects Clemens Rutherford and Associates of Tallahassee, Fla., came in $5 million more than the county's budget. The original plan to build a 56-bed jail complex that would have contained dispatch and driver's license services was whittled down to a 48-bed jail unit that does not include the other offices.

The county also had hoped to afford remodeling of the courthouse, but that plan has been scrapped.

Duman said Tuesday the new guaranteed maximum price of $12.7 million would consume all of the federal grant money the county will receive for this project through the American Rescue Plan Act and would not involve any county funds.

Duman said part of the reason the cost was higher than expected was because of inflation of the materials. He said that picture is not likely to change any time soon.

"The longer we put this off," Duman said, "the more those costs go up." Although the county has other infrastructure needs, the jail project "is the single largest need the county has at this point."

Undersheriff Brian Hewson said the material cost of building a jail complex does not take into account the "true costs" of Idaho County's detention situation. The jail, built in 1956, is designed to hold 11 inmates but right now is housing 19. That overcrowding "creates a volatile atmosphere that we can't get away from," Hewson said, adding the stress of the inmates affects sheriff's office staff and has resulted in recent employee turnover.

Hewson, who worked at the San Quentin (Calif.) prison in the past, said he is haunted by the volatility of the situation and frequently asks himself: "What keeps these inmates from taking this jail over?

"That's potentially what we have up here," Hewson said. "It can't go on. It just can't."

Sheriff Doug Ulmer also said he recently received a phone call from Ada County seeking a place to house its overflow of inmates.

Because of a marked increase in violent and drug-related crimes statewide, Ulmer said: "Everybody's in the same predicament."

Commissioner Ted Lindsley pointed out that, with a new 48-bed facility, Idaho County could potentially make some money by housing inmates from other counties or the state.

Duman said it would take about a year and a half to complete the jail project once the bid is awarded. Knife River, one of the subcontractors, expects to have the dirt work ready for the outer shell of the building to be in place by August.

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