BISBEE — As the aging county jail building continues to face maintenance problems, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and Jail Commander Kenny Bradshaw proposed an all-inclusive justice center on county property on North Judd Drive.

A work session on Jan. 4 began in an executive session during which the problems and failing systems of the jail were discussed prior to the public meeting.

Dannels and Bradshaw suggested the county construct the new jail, which could be built in phases to include the Superior Courts, county attorney office staff, probation staff, secure evidence storage and more.

It would be called the Cochise County Justice Center, which re–imagines the approach to justice and civic design, said Larry Smith with DLR Group, a company familiar with new jails.

Smith told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, “The goal is to create a place that allows growth and transparency between the public and law enforcement in the community. The new facility will introduce local materials into a modern and welcoming design. Rather than providing a harsh and firm environment like most justice buildings, the goal here is to introduce a soft and approachable place for both staff and the public.”

Since the jail is in Bisbee’s back yard, he said the new facilities would be built with local materials such as “stone, copper and brick to evoke a sense of calm and tranquility while blending in with the surrounding landscape.”

The proposed jail will be able to house 420 people by 2040, he said. It would include behavioral health facilities, a necessary addition to deal with people who have drug addictions. An outreach office would help those exiting the jail by tracking their progress in the weeks and months following their discharge.

The cost of just the new jail could be $92 million, while full buildout with all the extras could be well more than $115 million.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Dickerson reminded the supervisors of the inherent problems with the existing courthouse.

“The Bisbee courthouse is great to look at, but there’s a lot of work to keep the system of the courts up and running,” said Dickerson. “It won’t be cost-effective to maintain that building. At some point, we will need to get everyone out of the courthouse.”

English said, “It’s important for us to plan for the future, even if we can’t do it now. In the long term we will have to address the jail and the courthouse.”

In 2019, Dannels and Bradshaw pointed out the problems associated with the water in Bisbee and how it affects water pipes. After 37 years, leaks have sprouted and valves have become corroded. The commodes and basins also need replacement. Parts for the out-of-date models are next to impossible to find, but custom-made kits can be ordered.

Jail cells have to be repainted frequently due to graffiti and has created layers of paint on the walls, Bradshaw said. Add in the outdated heat and air conditioning system repairs and the replacement of water heaters and costs reach several thousand dollars a year just for maintenance.

Dannels said, “We’re dealing with $6,000 to $7,000 a month just in repair costs.”

“The biggest issue right now is plumbing,” Bradshaw said.

Early on last year, Crosby suggested a jail district to pay for the new facilities with a new half-cent sales tax increase with a sunset clause of 25 years. The sales tax would be paid by everyone living in, visiting or going through the county, adding no burden to property taxpayers.

The supervisors agreed there was “an urgency” to the situation.

Dannels and Bradshaw will be providing more information on the proposed new jail facilities in two weeks.