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Hot jail may need an upgrade

Cost to solve problems is put at $1.2 million

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PROVO — Temperatures inside the Utah County Jail are starting to cool down, and sheriff's deputies want to make sure they stay that way.

Jail officials met with Utah County commissioners Tuesday to discuss solutions to heat problems inside the housing units at the Spanish Fork correctional facility.

Jail Capt. John Carlson recommended that the jail be retrofitted to include refrigerating coolers and that the two additional pods under construction be similarly adapted to avoid perpetuating the heat problem.

The cost for such upgrades is estimated at $1.2 million.

Commissioners agreed to look into the problem and consider recommendations from the sheriff's office.

Excessive heat becomes a problem at the jail between 20 and 30 days a year. The jail's swamp coolers have been ineffective on hot, humid summer days and nights, resulting in temperatures "considerably above 90 (degrees)" in some of the housing areas and cell blocks, said Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Neil Castleberry.

Sheriff's deputies and inmates have complained about the heat, which has become a problem in recent years. A year ago, there were cases of female inmates fainting from the heat, Carlson said.

"It's a very uncomfortable environment," he said.

The swamp-cooler systems in the jail are designed to cool the facility by 15 degrees from the outside temperature, said Don Nay, Utah County public works associate director.

But that only works if relative humidity is in the range of 30 percent. When humidity tops 40 percent, the system does not cool effectively, Carlson said.

"What we're seeing is a 96 degree temperature outside and 90 degree temperature inside," he said.

Nay said the county monitors the temperature inside the jail and has never seen it higher than 85 degrees. National jail standards require the temperature at the facility to be between 65 degrees and 85 degrees.

"I wouldn't want my office at 85 degrees," Nay said, "but it is within the standards."

Castleberry said those readings are correct for some areas of the jail but not for others. Housing areas on the west side regularly exceed jail standards during July and early August, he said.

The least-expensive way to retrofit the jail and upgrade the construction, Nay said, would be to use what's called DX cooling — adding direct expansion coils to the jail's HVAC system.

The $1.2 million price tag for the combined project was enough to make commissioners sweat, and that estimate doesn't include the cost of operating the air-conditioning units.

Because jails are required to circulate fresh air throughout their facilities, operation costs could be pretty hefty.

"You're cooling the 90-degree air from the outside, pumping it in and then pumping it right back out," Nay said.

If commissioners decide to alter the cooling system in the new pods, it needs to be done soon, Nay said. The $23.6 million expansion project, which will add 400 beds to the jail, is expected to be complete in November 2007.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com