A feasibility study found that the building could become a jail, but many more question remain

About three months ago, local government and law enforcement leaders began to question whether the Pioneer Memorial Hospital building could be converted to a jail.

After recently completing a feasibility study, they still don't know, but saw enough potential to keep pursuing the idea for now.

“I think it’s way too early to tell,” said Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley. “They took a look at the building and said we could put a jail in there. It would be 62 beds and it would cost this amount versus this amount for a new 70-bed jail. That’s pretty much it.”

In addition to gaining more jail space, city leaders are considering converting a portion of the building to a public safety complex that would also house the police and sheriff’s departments. The current police department building, which also houses the jail, was built in 1956 and a study determined it would collapse in an earthquake.

After touring the hospital building and sitting in on meetings during the feasibility study, Prineville Police Captain Michael Boyd is very encouraged by what he has seen.

“I see it as the chance of a lifetime for this community,” he said. “It is a bargain compared to what it would cost to build a facility from the ground up.”

He added that the study determined a retrofit would cost about a third to half of the cost of building a new facility.

Boyd went on say that the hospital building would enable the police department and sheriff’s office to cross-support each other. As an example, he said that a person may come in looking for a county deputy when none are available, and a city officer could potentially help them depending on their needs.

Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester feels that from a construction and economic standpoint, the building shows enough promise to continue discussing plans for a jail or public safety complex. In addition to the cost savings over building a new jail, Forrester said the facility already includes some essential infrastructure including backup power generation, power redundancy, fire sprinklers, and communication infrastructure.

At the same time, he acknowledged that many questions will have to be answered as they move forward. “Where do we want to take this thing? What do we think is possible? What is the timing? How would we structure financing?”

Forrester and Hensley also stressed that the project would not go far without support from the community. Since the time that community leaders initially revealed interest in converting the building to a jail, several residents have voiced opposition to the idea, with most expressing concerns about its close proximity to a major subdivision.

“We need to make sure we have public support,” Forrester said. “There is going to be a lot of work that needs to be done to get us to that point.”

Along with addressing the immediate concerns of the county and city, Forrester would like to determine whether or not the facility will meet future needs as the community grows.

“We don’t want to get ourselves in a situation where we were to do this and then 10 or 15 years down the road, we say it’s not big enough again. We are back to square one.”

Though many questions remain, and there is a lot of work left to do before anyone definitively decides to convert the building, the feasibility provided enough positives to start talking about the next step.

“It’s still worth looking at further,” Hensley concluded.

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