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Ada County moves forward with a phased approach to jail expansion

Inmates work in the kitchen area of the Ada County jail, with some cleaning the floor and another basting a tray of food on a large steel table.
Ada County Sheriff's Office
Inmates work in the kitchen area of the Ada County Jail. The Sheriff's office says the kitchen delivers twice the number of daily meals it's designed for.

The Ada County Board of County Commissioners are moving forward with a phased approach to expanding the County Jail.

A $49 million bond proposed by the county last fall narrowly missed the required supermajority to pass. Ada County had already set aside about $20 million for the project and since has spent about $7 million to buy the land next to the jail and complete some of the necessary prep work on that property.

This week, commissioners approved the plan to put the rest of that money to work addressing the jail’s most immediate need: its kitchen facilities.

"I think it’s worth noting on the record, that when we tried to do our information push to the public, all we kept hearing was ‘more beds in the jail, more beds in the jail, more beds in the jail’ even though we said, ‘no this is infrastructure,' and we’re proving that right here,” Sheriff Matt Clifford told Commissioners Monday.

The failed bond would have funded a new "pod" adding about 300 new beds, in addition to the other needs of the jail, like the kitchen renovation, warehouse storage and a redesign of the jail’s intake area.

Splitting the project into phases is likely to cost more. County Operations Project Manager Alex Murray told commissioners the jail project’s design firm, Lombard Conrad Architects, is charging the county $520,000 to redraft the existing plans to accommodate a phased approach.

Murray also said the updated plans would need to go back through the approval process with the City of Boise, but he did not expect any hiccups. The city has assured Ada County future phases of the jail expansion project will be able to be "grandfathered in" for acceptance regardless of future changes to the city zoning code.

Commissioners Rod Beck and Tom Dayley, voting 2-0 Monday to approve the new design agreement to move the project forward, noted the importance of getting the jail expansion going, and using funding already set aside without needing to find additional tax revenue.

“We need this, no matter what,” said Commission Chairman Beck, to nods from Sheriff Clifford. “It doesn’t have anything to do with expansion of population; this will be able to accommodate the expanded population with the new infrastructure,” Beck said.

The kitchen project includes expanding the jail’s secure perimeter, hiring additional staff and establishing a temporary kitchen to operate for about six months while the new permanent facility is constructed. Members of the sheriff’s staff have visited a jail in Arizona going through a similar renovation to see an example of the process in action.

Ada County officials say they hope to start construction in January 2025.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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