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Council seesaws on jail complex

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By Katy Korkos

“I hope this puts to rest the allegation that this council has always had too many unanimous votes,” Councilor Ken Milder said at the conclusion of the council’s lengthy discussion on the functions and requirements for a new Judicial-Police/Jail Complex.More than three hours of discussion and four seesaw votes culminated in the council approving a motion brought forward by Councilor Jim Hall, which said, ”I move that council accept the requirements and functions as presented for the courts and the jail, and that council revisit the requirements for the Police Department on Dec. 18, to be followed by the options as soon as possible.”The motion carried in a 4- to-3 vote, with councilors Gibson, Berting and Bowman voting against the proposal.The council had originally approved the 30-percent design of the complex, valued at $20 million, at its Aug. 21 meeting, but stepped back from that decision on Oct. 3, when it directed staff to suspend the design process until it had time to consider all its options.Council Chair Jim West introduced “the large item of the meeting” by asking both the public and councilors to limit their comments.“I don’t want us to get into who-when-why-where-how much tonight – just the functional requirements,” West said.Tuesday’s presentation by project manager David Apple and Police Chief Wayne Torpy was the first step in a three-part review of the project by council, with the next step being conceptual options, and the third step to look at the whole project after decisions have been made on the Municipal building project.Apple said that the mission of the design is “to provide a consolidated and modern judicial complex for the citizens of Los Alamos County including Judiciary, Los Alamos Police Department and Jail for current and future needs.”The functions can be grouped in three categories: that of the judicial, which includes Municipal, Magistrate and District Courts, their courtrooms, hearing rooms, jury, staff and public spaces; the police, which includes mainly the Los Alamos Police Department (LAPD) but also the county sheriff’s department, and its need for command and support staff spaces, emergency operations, conference and training rooms, and a public area; and the jail, which includes inmate and detention staff as well as visiting rooms for the public and attorneys, Apple said.Apple explained that the judicial program of the complex, as it was brought to the 30-percent design phase, provided for 15,803 square feet of space, where 16,218 would have been required by standards, because only two courtrooms will be used by three different courts.“There was a lot of give and take, and some creative thinking,” Apple said.The police and sheriff functions exceed the standards set by the county for space, and Apple explained that in some cases that was due to the fact that those standards were developed for school rather than police employees, whose needs might be different, and in some cases due to the fact that existing space will be remodeled or “backfilled” for use by the police department, and the construction of the building means that the use of the space can not be optimized.“We thought we used a commonsense approach,” Apple said. “Rather than reduce the size of somebody’s office, we looked at lower cost.”A third addition to the police space needs was the requirement for a secure corridor to transport prisoners to court.Torpy said that the space the police and jail are occupying currently, built in 1977 and added on to in 1993, was difficult to operate safely and should not be remodeled. “If we add another layer, it gets further and further away from the operations center of the jail,” Torpy said. “It’s a staff safety issue. It puts staff on the other side of the prisoners.”“We had hoped that the square footage would decrease, to get costs down. We haven’t decreased much,” Councilor Fran Berting said.Torpy replied that since the space was being backfilled within an existing building, only $1.2 million of the total estimated $20 million could be saved by not building the police part of the project.Hall did some quick calculations showing a 50-percent increase in the size of the jail.“That seems reasonable, we’re supporting 50 percent more inmates,” Hall said.His calculations also showed that the police department space would increase from about 9,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet.“If council wants a significant reduction in cost, it’s not going to come from the police building. The remodel cost is just about $1.2 million. If we don’t remodel, we can save you $1.2 million,” Torpy said.Councilor Michael Wheeler made a motion to accept the functions and requirements as presented, and Hall suggested a friendly amendment that would accept all of the functions except for the police department, and suggested an aggressive review of the police requirements.A motion to discuss the friendly amendment failed in 3-to-4 vote, with councilors Wheeler, Berting, Milder and West opposed.Shortly after that, Councilor Robert Gibson made a motion to table Wheeler’s motion, saying that there would be no immediate effect to accepting the functions and requirements. Only councilors Gibson and Bowman voted in favor of tabling, and that motion failed in a 2-to-5 vote.When the vote was called on Wheeler’s original motion, to accept the functions as presented, it failed 3-to-4, with councilors Berting, Bowman, Gibson and Hall voting against.All seven councilors were present at Tuesday’s meeting, whose agenda had three additional items besides the judicial complex. The council accepted a budget revision for the library because of grant awards and donations received, and approved a list of legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session.A not-so-new county attorney was named, filling a vacancy left when Peter Dwyer resigned in June. Attorney Mary McInerny will be returning to the job she held from 1995-2001.“I’ve had the privilege of working with every county attorney since Ab Schreiber,” Milder said. “Mary’s skill, breadth of knowledge and experience has really stood out.”The council will meet again Friday for its all-day six-month strategic planning session, beginning at 8:30 a.m.There are several opportunities for public comment during the course of the session.The next council meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at 475 20th St. Tuesday’s session was originally slated for White Rock Town Hall, but was moved to the Community Building to accommodate a closed session at 5:30 p.m.