Joaquin Alarez, an employee with ISI Detention Contracting Inc. in San Antonio, Texas, installs a door stop Tuesday in the corridor near Vestibule M3 while working in the Parmer County Law Enforcement Center in Farwell. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.
By Michelle Seeber
FARWELL — The new Parmer County Law Enforcement Center, nearing completion at a cost of just under $3 million, could begin housing inmates in about three weeks, said Parmer County Sheriff Randy Geries.
“We looked at renovation and adding on (a couple of years ago),” he said of the current jail, which failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and health regulations. “Interest rates were at an all-time low, so it seemed more feasible to build a new jail.”
Current jail deficiencies included having to house a washing machine and dryer used for inmate bedding and other items in the same room as the kitchen.
The kitchen had one pantry and a stove with a sink for washing dishes.
Also, the old jail was unable to accommodate physically challenged inmates or visitors, Geries said.
“The Health Department doesn’t like the laundry in the kitchen,” he said. “There’s no way to house people with disabilities.”
At the older facility it was impossible to separate female inmates “by sight and sound” from the male inmates, which is a Texas law, Geries said. The outside exercise area was a potential escape hazard.
The new state-of-the-art jail has separate hallways for male and female inmates.
The current jail was built in 1919 and houses 18 inmates. The new facility has 50 beds, Geries said.
The new facility has two doors to the cell blocks, so only one can be opened at a time to prevent escapes.
“The new building is about 19,000 square feet,” Geries said. “You can bring in buses and trucks to support the kitchen. It’s a secure area for the inmates. We now have a medical room, … a laundry room separate from the kitchen and a walk-in refrigerator and storage.
“We’ll be able to support inmates with no problem now,” he said.
Four eight-bed cells meet all the ADA requirements for males, smoke detectors, smoke removal ventilators and a sprinkler system, he said.
There are hot water systems for the entire building, an eight-bed cell specifically for the handicapped, and a wing that will house 12 female inmates separate from sight and sound of the male inmates.
In addition, the exercise area has a steel-reinforced ceiling and is enclosed in the building. It has louvers that can be opened for fresh air and ventilation and a bathroom area for inmates.
The new facility includes two detox rooms and two holding rooms, a separate booking room, a library-church-classroom, administrative offices, public restrooms and a lobby.
In addition to everything else, the new facility has a control room with three monitors that will allow personnel to view any cell block, hallway or entrance, Geries said, while being a center from which doors can be electronically opened.
Ren Harwell, a construction superintendent for Dinosaur Valley Construction of Glen Rose, Texas, began working at the new facility last September.
“I actually got here when the structural steel arrived,” Harwell said.
Geries said the initial construction of the building began last May. It is being paid for with a combination of certificates of obligation (a type of bond) and an ad valorem tax.
“Much of the expense is in security,” Geries said. “Plus, there is a lot of concrete in this building.”