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Ups and Downs 

A trapped inmate didn’t consume the breakfast cart, but officials are losing their appetite for constant elevator repairs.

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Spokane County budgets $50,000 a year for elevator repairs at the courthouse complex. Continuing malfunctions of the elevators in the Spokane County Jail are nothing to laugh at, but they did spark a funny rumor last week.

To wit: An inmate delivering last Monday morning’s hot breakfast was trapped in an elevator with the food cart. By the time people pried open the doors to free him, he had eaten the whole thing.

[Insert your favorite punch lines here.]

“That would have been world-record stuff. Depending on the area, there could be 90 to 150 trays on that cart,” says Lt. Aaron Anderton, one of the jail administrators.

Anderton didn’t know exactly what the meal was — possibly hot cereal, possibly toast — and says he would not have faulted the inmate for taking a bite or two during the hour-long confinement.

In the hour it took to free the inmate, the hot meals weren’t, anymore, and the food cart was returned to the kitchen for disposal. This may have started the rumor about the contents being consumed, Anderton suspects.

What’s less amusing, he says, is that the same elevator broke down later Monday morning with several corrections officers inside. They were going to help move an inmate when they became stuck for half an hour.

COSTLY REPAIR

Spokane County budgets $50,000 a year for maintenance for all of its courthouse campus elevators, but have spent an additional $35,000 for four new generator hoists for the four jail elevators. Also, the county is budgeting about $20,000 for new, more robust doors for the jail elevators.

With persistent jail overcrowding through much of the last two decades, “We have been running those elevators over capacity and overloaded, and we’ve been doing that for 20 years,” says County Commission Chairman Mark Richard.

State elevator inspectors say there is no imminent threat to safety, Richard says, “but clearly they need to be repaired.”

Cables and guides have been replaced on one of the jail elevators, and installation of the new hoist generator should begin before the end of the month, Anderton says.

The work is being done on one of the two elevators that serve the public side of the jail. This, Anderton and Richard say, allows repair crews to work out any bugs or kinks without impeding the two elevators on the secured side of the building.

Last month, Dep. Janice Bauer was briefly knocked unconscious when one of the jail elevators abruptly stopped. The incident is under investigation.

Elevators, however, are not a factor in the county’s decision to decide on a one-story design for a proposed new jail — the clincher for building horizontally out by the Medical Lake/I-90 interchange (instead of vertically near the present jail) was the estimated $54 million in savings.

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