Old County Jail Headed for Renovation

By Beacon Staff

The old jail building behind the historic Flathead County Courthouse is expecting a $1.5 million upgrade in the next two years, allowing for more office space for county employees.

The jail, built in 1903, was previously used not only to incarcerate inmates, but also to house the sheriff and the sheriff’s family. It was built at the same time as the courthouse, which received a $2.6 million renovation last year.

Currently, the juvenile detention facility takes up one corner of the jail building, and multiple additions, including a garage, have been added over the years.

According to Flathead County administrator Mike Pence, the jail renovation will allow the county to use space that currently has jail cells taking up most of the room. The county uses some of the space for storage, Pence noted, but the renovation would shift the area to office spaces.

The offices would most likely house the county attorney’s office, Pence said, which would then free up space in the Flathead County Justice Center and allow the clerks of district and justice court much-needed room for expansion.

“We did a layout for that and it fits pretty nicely and so that would be our intent,” Pence said.

The renovation is still in its infancy, with the county working on the initial plan and cost estimates, which should hit about $1.5 million.

Pence said architects have already taken walkthroughs in the building and have some ideas how to maintain some of the historical integrity of the space. The jail’s façade will be historically accurate, Pence said, and the theme will continue through much of the inside as well.
“You can take a historic building and still deviate from the use and still maintain that historical feel and look,” Pence said.

The Flathead County Commission has the project slated for fiscal year 2015, which means planning could proceed through the winter and construction could begin next summer, Pence noted.

And the county might also get some help with the environmental roadblocks it may run into during the facelift. Already, engineers have identified asbestos and lead paint that will need to be removed before people can work in there, Pence said, and the jail used to house fuel tanks underneath the building that will also have to be checked.

The City of Kalispell has agreed that this project is eligible for funding from its Brownfields Program grant, which is money from the Environmental Protection Agency to be used for “expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

Pence said the county has already conducted phase I of the Brownfields process, which means grant funds have been used to generate a report on the historical use of the building and a visual check for hazardous material.

The county will soon move into phase II, he said, meaning the amount of material that needs to be removed will be measured.

Grant funding for such parts of the project will save the county thousands of dollars, Pence said.

“It’s really a win-win situation,” Pence said. “The timing couldn’t be better for this project.”

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