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County could use cells as is

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McCOOK, Nebraska -- Unless Red Willow County changes walls, cells and occupancy in the 96-hour prisoner holding facility operated by the City of McCook, there would be little expense involved and no change in a fire marshal's latest inspection if the county takes over the facility's operation.

"As it sits, the jail meets fire codes. You're not changing the occupancy of the facility," Deputy Fire Marshal Mike Hoeft told Red Willow County commissioners at their weekly meeting Monday morning. "The county can take it over as it is. It does meet fire codes."

However, if the county were to renovate the structure into a full-blown jail, the structure would have to meet all the latest fire codes, including the installation of fire sprinklers, Hoeft and Chief Deputy David Bertram told commissioners.

Hoeft told commissioners and Reuben Hoff Jr. of rural McCook, a member of the county's new jail task force, that not having the city's fire department in the same building as the jail would not change the jail's inspection.

City voters approved a new public safety center and fire department in November. The new city facility, to be built on the location of the former West Ward Elementary School, does not include holding cells or a jail. Because a county sheriff's department is ultimately responsible for the transportation and housing of any prisoners, Red Willow County must decide what to do to house its prisoners once the city ceases to operate its 96-hour holding cells.

The county now contracts with Hitchcock, Frontier and Decatur counties for long-term jail beds, but sheriff's officers often use the city's temporary holding facility.

The county has hired an Omaha firm and created a jail task force to analyze five options:

* Use the City of McCook's 96-hour holding cells and continue to transport long-term prisoners to neighboring county jails.

* Expand the city's 96-hour cells into a full-operation jail. City council members formally acknowledged their consent for the county to use and/or renovate the existing structure in March. Construction of the new city public safety center municipal facility begins in August 2011. City manager Kurt Fritsch said in February that October 2012 would be a tentative date for a transition of the existing public safety center and jail cell holding facility from city to county ownership.

* Update the county's jail closed in 1983.

* Build new construction onto the north side of the courthouse. Hoeft said that two-hour fire walls and 90-minute doors between old and new construction would eliminate the need to install fire sprinklers in the existing courthouse.

* Build new construction elsewhere.

Commissioner Vesta Dack said that no matter which option the task force, consultants and county residents ultimately decide to go with, "we're going to have to use the 96-hour holding facility for sure, for some length of time."

Hoeft and Bertram told Sheriff Gene Mahon and commissioners that cosmetic changes such as paint and changes outside the facility's secure areas would not require that the jail comply with the newest fire codes.

The county may require different office set-ups, Mahon said, and his department would not need the current dispatch center.

Hoeft said the county would have to maintain the existing fire alarm system throughout the entire public safety center. He said a cost involved with the county moving in and taking over would be making sure that the fire alarm system automatically alerts a 24-hour response center, such as the city's public safety center dispatch system.

Hoeft said that Nebraska Jail Standards officials may send fire marshals to inspect the building at the time of an ownership change, and Bertram said that the county can request an inspection at that time even if Jail Standards does not ask for it.

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