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By Randi Pierce
As a result of an emergency situation declared Tuesday by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, the Archuleta County Detention Center will soon receive a new control panel, increasing safety for staff and inmates.
The jail’s current control panel was installed when the jail was built in 1989 and, over the last few years, has rapidly become less reliable.
An annual inspection of the Archuleta County Detention Center by the BoCC on Aug. 28, which SUN staff attended, shed further light on the problem.
A video shown during the inspection showed the jail’s control center board malfunctioning, with every light flashing when only two buttons were pushed.
Those malfunctions, jail staff explained, could result in the unlocking of various and random doors in the jail, leaving staff waiting to find out what doors, or how many, will be unlocked.
The problem also made it difficult for staff to determine what door someone buzzed from in order to be let into the jail.
But, because of increased staffing and staff procedures, no incidents occurred as a result of the malfunctioning panel, with inmates largely unaware of the problem (inmates were often told the wrong door had been unlocked by mistake).
Since that inspection, the panel failed to a greater degree, leaving detention staff using keys to manually open and close doors ordinarily controlled at the panel — doors in and out of the jail, to the cells, and to the sally port below the jail.
For the last several years, as officials looked for funding to replace the panel, the device became increasingly difficult to repair, said County Administrator Greg Schulte, with parts no longer available.
“We’re in dire straits,” said Detention Capt. Antoinette Martinez at Tuesday’s meeting.
But, the county’s normal procurement process for equipment costing at least $50,000 would take months to allow for a competitive bidding process.
In order to expedite the process and waive the procurement process, Schulte said the BoCC would have to declare the failure and replacement of the equipment an emergency. That would allow them to choose a vendor immediately.
In the past several weeks, as the situation worsened, Martinez and Lt. Harry Harris met with potential vendors on site and sought grant funding in attempts to expedite replacement of the panel, giving the BoCC three vendor estimates from which to choose.
Those three vendors are: Spectrum (which manufactured the current panel) at $76,268, Easter-Owens at $75,430, and Sierra at $84,578.
Martinez and Harris recommended that the county use Easter-Owens, which, in the end, offered the same services as Sierra for less money, offering to check the county’s existing wiring and doors to ensure compatibility with the new system. The company offered a one-year warranty, with further maintenance agreements costing $2,200 per year.
Before voting on the topic, Commissioner Michael Whiting agreed that the situation constituted an emergency and noted that the county is seeking to have fewer emergencies through increased internal controls, calling the situation a “twenty-three year emergency.”
Martinez noted that the department’s 2013 budget request included capital outlay for the purchase, but it could no longer wait until 2013.
Commissioner Steve Wadley noted the danger of putting correctional staff closer to the inmates, while Clifford Lucero called it a “miracle” the panel could be pieced together so long.
After declaring the situation an emergency in order to waive the bidding process, the BoCC chose Easter-Owens.
To help offset the cost, Harris was able to find a Justice Assistance Recovery Grant totaling more than $30,000.
In a later interview, Martinez said she hopes to have the new control panel in and working by December. Until that time, Martinez said staff will use manual keys within the jail, as well as the limited capabilities of the current control panel.
Adding to the new technology on its way to the jail, the BoCC also approved accepting a grant and purchasing a fingerprint/palm print machine.
The machine comes with a price tag of about $21,100, but a Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $18,994 means the county will pay about $2,100 for the machine — from the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office budget.
The new machine will link to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation system, and will help the county meet new requirements concerning sex offenders.
The commissioners praised the detention staff, namely Harris, for finding grants to offset costs to the county.
Martinez estimated that the machine would be in and running in November.