Unrepaired cell-door locks pose safety issues

County commissioners are juggling funds and changing priorities after an emergency report county facilities maintenance coordinator Eric Hansen gave them Tuesday morning.

The locks in the jail have not been serviced in 25 years.

And the ventilation system in the building needs to be replaced.

"It's come to the point where two locks - and there might be more - are improvised, literally with paper clips and a piece of a pop can," Hansen said. "These are not safe conditions. They could fail in a locked position or in an open position. You could consider this an emergency."

He recommended Folgers Locks repair those locks.

"They've held the rights on those locks since the 1800s," he said, half in jest. "Ours aren't that far behind that."

Ventilation in the building is even worse - leading Hansen to ask commissioners to divert funds to be spent on a new fire suppression system to replacing that.

Hansen requested the commissioners spend the $100,000 the board borrowed from the road fund for a fire suppression system on ventilation instead. The highest priority would be to provide ventilation for one jail cell in which new prisoners are sequestered and replacing the HVAC that serves the rest of the building.

"It's a higher liability than the fire suppression system would be," Hansen said. "It's been neglected continually."

He showed commissioners blackened filters from the system - filters he changes every three weeks - and rattled off a list of diseases that could infect prisoners and employees alike. They include influenza, tuberculosis, meningitis and chickenpox.

"It puts us in a very vulnerable spot," Hansen said. "If influenza were to break out, everyone would get it," he said, adding that disease spread is far more likely than a fire.

"Ventilation is used 24/7; a fire suppression might never be used," he said. "And if there's a fire, there's no way to exchange the air to remove smoke; they'd have to be evacuated."

Another serious problem, he noted, is the lack of ventilation in the evidence room, where, among other things, marijuana is held, and mold conditions have forced employees to wear masks when entering.

To provide ventilation to that room alone, however, would cost at least $120,000 - funds the county doesn't have.

"This (situation) is an accumulation of years and years and years and years of maintenance being deferred," said Commissioner David Itzen. "If we can ever get ahead of the curve - get some tax levy approved - we can get ahead."

Commissioners agreed to let Hansen find a company that can do the work for less than $100,000.

They also discussed the tax levy issue Tuesday, but are no closer to agreement about what - if anything - to place on the November ballot. They have until 5 p.m. Aug. 16 to submit paperwork to the Elections Office.