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Fire marshal reverses jail decision

Jail may house 16 inmates

Staff writer

In a surprise move, the state fire marshal’s office reversed its decision and now will allow up to 16 inmates to be housed in the county jail although the jail only has 11 beds.

County Attorney Susan Robson told commissioners Thursday that she received verbal confirmation. A written statement arrived later in the day from the fire marshal.

After the meeting, Kansas State Fire Marshal Prevention Division Chief Brenda McNorton said information provided by architect Tony Rangel of Law/Kingdon Architecture of Wichita was instrumental in the decision.

The fire marshal’s office also withdrew a requirement that the jail have a 24-hour fire watch.

According to the fire marshal’s decision, 120 square feet of floor space is necessary for each person on the second floor of the jail. The county had protested an earlier finding that calculated the allowable occupancy on a per-cell basis. That calculation would have limited the jail to four inmates.

Under the new decision, the county may have up to 20 people on the second floor of the jail, including staff members.

Employees on duty upstairs include one jailer and two or three dispatchers, Sheriff Rob Craft said after the meeting. That allows the county to have as many as 16 inmates in the jail.

“We can work with that much better than four,” he said.

Commission Chairman Randy Dallke was pleased with the announcement.

“I like that rule a lot better,” he said. “That is a workable situation.”

Communications Director Michele Abbott said she would order a sign specifying the 20-person limit.

Robson credited Rangel’s aid for the reversal. He provided floor-space calculations and spoke with officials from the fire marshal’s office.

“He did a great job for Marion County,” Robson said.

Commissioners spent some time considering plans to address ongoing concerns with the jail.

“We’re only off the hook for now,” Commissioner Dan Holub said.

Concerns discussed included elevator access to the second floor and the safety of people walking in front of jail cells, Dallke said. He said he would speak with Rangel for ideas about what the county might do about the jail.

Commissioners did not address inmates sleeping on mats on the floor when there are more inmates than the 11 beds in the jail.

After the meeting, Dallke said he would consider transporting extra inmates to other counties if the jail population exceeds 16 in the future.

“We are prepared to do something,” he said.

Land acquisition discussed

Dallke said the county has had a couple of offers of properties available for purchase. The county may need new property if the Health Department building is closed and if a new jail is constructed.

Many people, including members of Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee, have made it clear that they would like any new jail to be located near the courthouse, Dallke said.

Some of the offers the county has received were for as inadequate as the Health Department building, Holub said. And issues exist beyond having space for Health, Planning and Zoning, and Environmental Health departments, he said. The county needs a place to have larger meetings than the commission room can accommodate, and the Economic Development Department is in an office that is too small.

Commissioners met in closed session for 10 minutes to discuss land acquisition at Dallke’s request. No action was taken on return to open session.

Last modified Sept. 30, 2010

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