Commissioners approved the next phase of a feasibility study to determine if the hospital can be converted to a jail

Crook County officials have taken another step toward potentially converting Pioneer Memorial Hospital into a jail and criminal justice complex.

Commissioners approved the third phase of an ongoing feasibility study on Wednesday evening in which contractor HSR will examine the infrastructure of the building. The new portion of the study will look at the electrical, water and sewer, HVAC, and communications systems to determine if they are sufficient for the needs of a jail.

Prior to this phase, the feasibility study had cost $8,558, a cost shared by the City of Prineville and Crook County. The new phase adds another $11,385, bringing the total cost to $20,000.

Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley explained that the community needs a new facility of some kind in order to keep potentially dangerous inmates off the streets and prevent them from committing new crimes.

The new jail would house up to 81 inmates to satisfy the needs of Crook County through 2033, while the current facility only provides room for 16 inmates, forcing the county rent jail space from Jefferson County.

Hensley noted that they had to release 15 people during the past week due to overcrowding.

“At least one of them was a sex abuse case,” he added.

Hensley went on to point out that the jail is used as a tool to gain compliance from those who are on probation. Because of the lack of space, they cannot enforce jail-time sanctions.

“We have 98 people waiting to serve court-ordered jail time in this community,” he said. “The deterrent isn’t there.”

So far, city and county leaders have given mixed reviews to the new jail proposal. City Councilor Jason Carr voiced his disapproval of the location because it lies in the middle of a residential neighborhood. City Mayor Betty Roppe, by contrast, considers it an excellent spot.

“I think we would have to do a lot of education to the general public as to answering their questions,” she said. “because there are a lot of people saying, ‘Not in my neighborhood.’”

Hensley tried to alleviate those concerns by pointing out that an adequate jail would prevent most inmate releases. Furthermore, jail releases would only occur in the morning, as opposed to the current setup where inmates are let go all hours of the day or night.

“We would do everything in our power to meet the needs and concerns of the public,” he said.

When it comes to cost, Hensley provided an expense breakdown of different options to illustrate the benefit of converting the hospital versus building a new facility from the ground up.

He noted that converting the building to a new 81-bed jail complete with a criminal justice complex that would house the Prineville Police Department, Crook County Sheriff’s Office, and 911 Dispatch would cost about $10 million to $12 million.

By contrast, building a 70-bed jail from the ground up would cost $12.8 million and construction of a new police department building would add another $13 million.

Hensley cautioned that all of the numbers he provided were estimates. Consequently, Crook County officials felt it best to move forward with the next phase of the feasibility study so they can come up with a more concrete cost.

The county initially asked the city to continuing sharing the cost of the feasibility study. The city had agreed to split up to $15,000 of the cost, but voted against sharing any additional expense. The county requested an additional $2,500 from the city, but councilors voted against the proposal by a 4-3 margin.

“I have difficulty in as much as this really is a jail issue, and the jail is a county issue,” said City Councilor Steve Uffelman.

Upon completion of the next feasibility study phase, the county is planning to host a public meeting to take input from citizens and determine their interest in the project as well as potential concerns.

Contract Publishing

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