County manager positive about new jail

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By John Larson
El Defensor Chieftain
jlarson@dchieftain.com

Socorro County
Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh is hopeful that the construction of the new country jail will be just the beginning of a much larger project. A bigger jail has been on the county’s wish list for several years, and Walsh, along with other county officials and contracted architects and engineers, have been diligently working on final design for the building.
“We’re taking a really long time in planning the project, but we want to do as much on paper ahead of time before we break ground. And our budget is very, very tight,” Walsh said.
She said the county has been granted $6 million for the 20,000 square foot building.
“The cost to build a jail this size should be 10 to 12 million. We’ll be doing it for less than six,” Walsh said. “As a comparison, you look at Centennial High School in Las Cruces … a hundred million dollars. And here we’re building a facility for about a hundred people on what is a very tight budget. That’s really what’s happening.”
On that tight a budget, planners must be meticulous and look at every conceivable problem, she said.
“We have at least three more programming meetings before we go,” Walsh said. “We talk about every detail. We’re trying to lay everything out and anticipate every contingency, even someone from the hospital came by and helped us with the medical room.”
The jail will be able to house 96 inmates, almost twice the current population of 55. According to law enforcement officers, the larger facility will save the county – and taxpayers – money.
Socorro County Chief Deputy Ed Sweeney said, “I think the first benefit the new jail will give us is we won’t be transferring so many prisoners out of here, and our transport officers won’t spent quite as much time on the road, hopefully. Which will lessen overtime and salary impacts. It will actually benefit the whole county because we’re using less money.”
Currently, the Sheriff’s Department has three officers that designated as transport officers who weekly  transport local prisoners to jails in Grants, Gallup and Hidalgo County because of overcrowding in the Socorro County Detention Center.
Adjunct to Sheriff Philip Montoya, Les Torres said, “There’s an extra cost in housing for the prisoners we have to take out of here. We are having to pay the other detention centers to house our prisoners.”
Torres said when he first became Under Sheriff in 1983 there were only 13 inmates held in the county jail.
“At that time everyone said the jail was too big.”
According to Walsh the structure on Enterprise Road will be a concrete building surrounded by metal.
“We’re doing the site planning to make it as secure and accessible as possible. It won’t be pretty, but the the front part, the part the public will see, we’ll be giving it a Territorial New Mexico look,” she said. “People driving by on Highway 60 are not going to see what looks like a jail.’ They’ll see a building over there, but it’s not going to look like a jail.”
Walsh said, “We’re working with Studio Southwest Architects, and what’s really nice is they’ve brought in partners, Dewberry Group and Goldberg Group Architects, that specialize in building rural, small budget, very efficient jails. Dewberry is a security consultant that works all around the world.
“We went with Studio Southwest because they have that record,” she said. “We’re going to test things out ahead of time before we start going out for bids. Make sure things work.”
The planning team is also using computer models to make sure they work, “before we break ground,” she said. “Because we don’t have room to screw up.
“I don’t think we’re actually going to break ground until maybe November. Then probably it will take 18 months to build.”
By arrangement with the City of Socorro, the county will take care of the landscaping design, road paving and drainage along Enterprise. The county has 20 acres to use for the project.
“Our longer term plan is have not only the jail, but then a larger complex housing all Seventh Judicial District offices, as well as a new courthouse and DA’s office,” Walsh said. “We have a vision in the coming years of building a joint law enforcement center where we house the sheriff offices, dispatch and police department. In separate wings, but all sharing common things, like IT.”
“Even if you had a auto repair and body shop there that could service both county and city vehicles would be a huge savings because they go through cars pretty fast,” she said. “We have such a good relationship with the city, as far as getting things done. They have been great to work with.”
“When you partner resources it saves public money, so I would love to have something like that. An actual law enforcement center.”