Ginna Wardle (right) inspected a bunk mattress inside a cell at the Grand County Jail as Chantay Wardle looked on during a public tour of the new facility on Thursday, Sept. 7. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

After nearly a year conducting law enforcement without a local jail facility while the Grand County Jail was under renovation, Grand County Sheriff’s deputies and staff celebrated the jail’s reopening with a public open house on Sept. 7.

As Hogan & Associates Construction workers applied finishing touches, groups of community members were shown upgrades in every part of the facility, from the intake garage and pre-booking area to the corridor leading to the courtroom.

Jail Commander Veronica Bullock and Grand County Emergency Management Director Rick Bailey led the tours, explaining to visitors how the renovations will improve the security and comfort of detainees, as well as GCSO staff and deputies.

Five years in the making, the $5.5 million renovation was initiated as the outdated jail experienced flooding from leaks in the roof, as well as compounding safety and comfort concerns due to outdated and flawed design facility-wide. The renovation was funded by a loan from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) matched by Grand County funds.

“I’m so glad we were able to do this,” Grand County Sheriff Steve White said. “We can better help inmates, the staff is safer and it’s better for the community in general.”

Since the renovation began in October 2016, prisoners from Grand County have been housed at the Emery County Jail, sometimes requiring deputies to make multiple two-hour trips daily to transport arrestees from the Moab area, White said.

Part of the lease agreement with Emery County included providing staff to support the increased number of detainees, so the GCSO also rented a house near the jail to accommodate staff who worked in the area for multiple-day shifts on a rotating basis, White said. He noted that Hogan Construction completed the renovation ahead of schedule.

“We’re all glad to have a local facility again. It’s been a long time coming and they worked hard on it,” GCSO Sgt. Curt Brewer said. “And they did a good job.”

At the center of the renovation, as well as the facility itself, is the dispatch control room, White, Bullock and Bailey agreed. Dispatch staff on duty for eight to 12 hours at a time are responsible for supporting correctional officers in the jail by monitoring inmates, as well coordinating communication with GCSO staff and deputies in the field.

“This is the toughest position we have in the county,” Bailey said.

Dispatchers were on duty in the control room during the tours, working at new state-of-the art consoles which allow them to work seated or standing – an important feature for people working long shifts in a small area, GCSO Dispatch Manager Jennifer Swenson noted.

At each console and throughout the room, multiple large screens show images of the entire facility interior, and display Grand County area maps showing incident sites. Large, tinted glass windows around the perimeter of the room also allow dispatchers to keep an eye on detainees while remaining invisible themselves.

“Having added cameras and technology will definitely make our job a little easier, keeping our eye on the correction officers to make sure they’re safe,” Swenson said.

Other important upgrades include a bathroom inside the dispatch area. Previously, in order to use the bathroom, dispatchers had to wait to be relieved of duty by a coworker and leave the room to access a staff restroom located in an area that detainees could access.

A new catwalk between the enclosed dispatch area and enclosed prisoner area now physically separates the jail staff from detainees, preventing detainees from pounding on the glass, Swenson said.

Other new features were designed to increase the facility’s efficiency, Bullock said.

With twice as many video cameras in the building, staff now have visibility of every area detainees can access, allowing a single staff member to assess any incidents that occur in real-time and call for appropriate back-up immediately, she said.

Additional state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment will allow family members to communicate with detainees without staff members present, significantly reducing labor required to facilitate visitation, Bailey said. Sheriff White added that a system allowing detainees to Skype with visitors is under development.

The detainees will also be able to order and receive sundries through a new digital commissary system set up to accept orders and payment electronically, Bullock said.

Other upgrades to the facility include expansion and improved lighting of the holding area for female detainees who have not been sentenced; the addition of cells for individuals with medical conditions; and a new open area for holding religious services and other meetings.

The kitchen was also expanded, and the menu for detainees will include an increased variety of freshly made entrees and bread baked on site.

The 62-bed jail can house state and federal inmates, White said, although local inmates take priority.

The mother and sister of a local inmate, who is currently at the Emery County Jail, attended the open house, and said they’re looking forward to their loved-one returning closer to home.

“We haven’t seen him in four months,” Chantay Wardle said. She had never seen the interior of the jail before, and she said she is glad the renovation is finished simply because it means she can visit her brother.

“That will be the nice part,” she said.

$5.5 million renovation increases safety, comfort of staff and detainees

We can better help inmates, the staff is safer and it’s better for the community in general.