Jail renovations on budget, on time

Gilbert Armendariz, Sandoval County Detention Center director

By Argen Marie Duncan Rio Rancho Observer Editor

BERNALILLO — Sandoval County Detention Center renovations are proceeding on budget and on schedule to finish in 2021, the jail director told county commissioners Thursday night.

Among the newest improvements was a body scanner detention officers would use to start checking people going into the secure areas in a few days, Director Gilbert Armendariz said during the Sandoval County Commission meeting in the county administration building.“There’s always a worry of unauthorized items entering the facility,” he said.

Armendariz expects the body scanner to do a better job of detecting those unauthorized items than the metal detector it’s replacing did. The detention center has an X-ray scanner to check packages and other items as well. Also, the lobby is larger, and the front desk is more secure for the officer staffing it.

Armendariz said officers now use a biometric scan to get keys, and the system emails him or Deputy Director Chris Urbanic if a key isn’t returned.

“Accountability is great,” Armendariz said, adding that the system is also a standard to receive accreditation.

In addition, the jail has 71 new high-definition cameras, some with a 360-degree view to remove blind spots, increasing safety.

He said workers are replacing cell doors, some of which previously wouldn’t close, and fixing plumbing issues.

He hopes three pods will be done by the end of February so workers can start on the next three.

The facility also has a new perimeter fence and key-card access points.

The 120 new hand-held radios and radio repeater have increased safety, Armendariz said. The system includes “officer down” buttons in case an inmate becomes violent and a guard needs help.
He said the response to the button is even quicker than it already was and officers feel safer.

Finally, floors have been changed to cleaner, low-maintenance polished concrete, and the directors are working to get an emergency generator, he said.

“The officers there, they appreciate it,” Armendariz said of the work.

He said contractors expect renovations to finish in May 2021, but he thought it would be earlier. He estimated the detention center could again house federal prisoners in late 2020 or early 2021.

In addition to contractors, county employees have helped with improvements.

Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald said renovations cost double or triple what they would have if the detention center had been maintained over the last 30 years. He said the facility was nice when it first opened, but previous leaders had let it deteriorate.

“We cannot do that again,” Eichwald said.

Commissioner Jay Block said the renovations improve morale, as well as safety for officers, inmates and the public.

“Thanks for bringing us into the 21st century,” he said to Armendariz and Urbanic.