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Bernalillo County to bail on the old jail

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 2013, a consultant provided Bernalillo County a pretty grave assessment of its former Downtown jail.

The sewer system? “Approaching the end of its service life and should be replaced in its entirety.”

The water heating equipment? “Poor.”

Some of the fire protection equipment? “Inadequate to meet the requirements of today’s Building and Fire Codes.”

County Commission Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins uses simpler language to describe the conditions inside the two-tower facility near Fourth and Roma: “Awful.”

The county had in 2003 moved its inmates to a new jail on the far West Side, but subsequently leased it to a private company that used it to detain federal inmates until 2011.

“Inmates were stuffing the toilets and doing all kinds of horrible things,” Hart Stebbins said, “so it smells horrible.”

The old county jail, known as the Regional Correctional Center when it held federal inmates, has been vacant for years. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The county undertook the analysis in 2013 to investigate the costs of rehabilitating the facility. At the time, architects estimated it would cost $26 million plus gross receipts taxes to upgrade the building enough to house 500 inmates. A recent update pegged the total costs at around $36 million.

Hart Stebbins says demolition is the only logical option at this point because “it’s unreasonably expensive to try to repair it.”

“It’s unfortunate, because reuse would certainly be a priority,” she said.

The commission last week approved a $2.5 million appropriation to raze the building as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget process.

The county would likely first use the space for parking, though Hart Stebbins said it could eventually accommodate expansion of state District Court.

PLUS TWO? Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton announced Friday that he will introduce a proposal to increase the number of councilors to 11 from today’s nine.

He cited the demands within his own district to justify the move, noting that a 2010 redistricting gave him an area that encompasses Downtown, Old Town, much of the North Valley and includes more than 50 registered neighborhood associations.

“Our district’s one dedicated policy analyst and I now work more than full-time to keep up with the needs of the district, but it’s still not enough,” he said in an email newsletter.

Benton’s proposal would require amending the city charter and, if passed by council, would go to voters in November’s election.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Just one last question: It’s my understanding Innovate ABQ is suing the county. Can you talk about that a little bit?” Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins asked Innovate ABQ Executive Director John Freisinger during last Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Freisinger had just presented to the board in the hopes of securing more county funding for the public-private development in Downtown.

Innovate in 2017 filed a lawsuit against the Bernalillo County assessor, disputing that the site is subject to property taxes, and the case is scheduled to go to trial this summer.

The commission last week ultimately approved a $100,000 contribution to aid Innovate ABQ with fiscal year 2020 operating costs.

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

 

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