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Cooler, warmer jail planned for Island County inmates

An antiquated climate-control system and lighting at the Island County Jail may soon be replaced to the tune of $1.4 million.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC system, is the building’s original, installed in 1984 when the jail and new Island County courthouse were first constructed.

The system is so old that repairs are expensive and often difficult to achieve, according to Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works.

“It’s in bad shape – they’re starting to not be able to get parts for the machinery,” Oakes said.

County officials have been looking at ways to pay for the new system for some time and Oakes provided the Island County commissioners with an update at a work session last month.

The county has qualified for a state Department of Commerce grant of about $367,000, but the bulk of the tab, more than $1 million, will still have to come from county coffers, he said.

About $495,000 can be covered with real estate excise tax, or REET, money and about $74,000 can come from public works funds. That leaves approximately $477,000 unaccounted for, he said.

Ameresco, an international energy management firm with offices in Renton, worked with the county to identify potential energy savings with the new system and qualify for the state grant.

It is also helping the county with a potential low interest loan offered through the Office of the State Treasurer. According to Oakes, a 15-year loan would cover the remaining $477,000.

There was some discussion about borrowing the money through the REET fund but a county policy prohibits the debt ratio from exceeding 50 percent of the existing revenue.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow said a future loan combined with existing debt would put the county over the threshold. To remain in compliance with the policy, the board will have to borrow through the county’s current expense fund.

The good news, however, is that the annual energy savings achieved with the new system, estimated at $54,000, would more than cover the expected $34,000 yearly loan payment.

“It should be budget neutral,” Marlow said.

Part of those energy savings will come from lighting improvements planned for the jail and a county road shop.

The board did not make a decision at the Wednesday meeting, deciding instead to discuss the matter further.

According to Oakes, there is time as the loan application deadline is not until June, though he hopes to begin work on the replacement system and lighting upgrades by late summer or early fall.

Jail Administrator De Dennis said the project will require some musical chairs of prisoners but that it should not be too disruptive. Most will just be happy to have the cranky, old system replaced because it’s “either too hot, too cold or has bad airflow,” he said.

The project is expensive, but it’s also needed, he said.

“We’re an old jail and things start breaking after a while,” Dennis said.

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