New Buyer Knocks Flathead County Out of Walmart Purchase

County had offered $2.8 million for the building, which would be turned into a new jail, sheriff's office

By Molly Priddy
The old Walmart building in Evergreen on June 5, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County’s attempt at purchasing the former Walmart building in Evergreen has been sidelined now that the seller has received another offer for the property.

According to county administrator Mike Pence, the county’s $2.8 million offer for the 130,000-square-foot building and the 14 acres around it was turned down after a new buyer came on the scene.

The county was in a tentative agreement with the seller to purchase the property and was in a 120-day period wherein the county would perform its due diligence on the building, which was going to serve as a new detention center and sheriff’s office.

“We’re disappointed, because we felt this had a lot of merit to consider for public safety and detention needs,” Pence said of the sale falling through.

There were plans to spend about $20,000 on an architectural review of the building, as well as about $17,000 on an environmental study, but those have been shelved. An appraisal, which would have cost in the $5,000 to $6,000 range, was also not performed.

Pence said the county did perform some work on the property already, including weed control and trimming trees and shrubbery.

“We weren’t trying to do anybody favors,” Pence said. “We cleaned it up a little bit.”

Flathead County identified the need for more jail space in conversations dating back a decade, but the Flathead County Commission in 2014 decided to maximize its levies for a few years to save for new jail space, which was expected to cost about $14 million.

The county had also transferred $3 million from the general fund cash balance to pay for the Walmart purchase.

In the initial discussions about new jail space, Pence said the county was focused on constructing an addition to the existing jail. Through the process of considering transforming the former Walmart building’s shell into a detention center, Pence said the county realized the potential benefits of a new building off campus.

Instead of adding more space that would likely fill up in the next few decades, Pence said the idea of a new building with more space seems more attractive.

“So, because of all these things kind of falling in line, I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be looking at other alternative sites off campus,” he said.

Any plan to build a jail off site or buy a building off site would likely go through a preliminary architectural review, he said, which would include all the county’s alternatives, such as various sites, adding on to the current building, and existing buildings.

Regardless of the setback, Pence said the county is speeding up its timeline to expand the jail because the overcrowding is becoming such a problem.

The jail was built in 1985 and designed to hold 63 inmates. The inmate population now is more than 100 people on most nights, according to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, and some offenders are released just to make room for more dangerous offenders.

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