PRINEVILLE — The difference between the old, aging Crook County jail currently in use and the new one, taking shape next door, could not be more stark.

“There is no comparison,” said Crook County Sheriff John Gautney.

The old, 16-bed jail is dark, crowded, escapable and dangerous, with anachronistic touches like actual jail bars and large keys to lock and unlock doors. The new 76-bed facility — about two months shy of a ribbon-cutting — is entirely modern with new features intended to improve safety and security.

Gautney doesn’t expect the new jail to reach capacity anytime soon. This week, Crook County was incarcerating about 45 people. Most of them are housed in Madras, 29 miles away, an arrangement that costs the county more than $600,000 per year in bed rental fees and is a significant drain on employee morale at the sheriff’s office, Gautney said. But as officials prepare to open the new jail this summer, the sheriff’s staff is also feeling trepidation.

“I think we all are,” said deputy Ray Stacy. “Some of us are just a little nervous for the new — the unknown.”

Because the old jail houses only male inmates deemed low-risk, Stacy and most other Crook County deputies have worked little with female inmates or people experiencing mental health crises.

“There will be a learning curve, for sure,” Stacy said.

According to Gautney, two of his retirement-age deputies recently opted to hang up their badges and start taking their pensions, rather than work through the coming transition.

But Stacy and others are upbeat about the move and the opportunity to deepen their skill sets. The new facility will allow the jail to offer new programs for inmates, including counseling and life- and job-skills courses.

Once construction wraps, Gautney plans to spend two months training staff on-site before the jail starts slowing taking on inmates. One way Gautney plans to do this is through an overnight fundraiser when community members can pay to spend the night. In the morning, friends or relatives can write a donation, to “bail out” the person playing inmate.

The fundraiser, which will benefit Crook County’s “Shop with Cop” program, was Commissioner Brian Barney’s idea, and he expects it to succeed.

“Actually, a lot of people have expressed interest,” he said.

The total project cost is $18.5 million. Of that, $10.5 million was covered by a voter-approved bond; $2 million came from the county and $1 million from the city of Prineville. The remainder came from loans and grants.

It was the third time a bond question on funding a new jail had been put to voters. Previous efforts failed at the ballot.

Ground was broken on the project in September, but the team soon hit a snag, as the soils at the jail site on Second Street were found to be too soft to support the proposed building.

More than 800 reinforcing geopiers were needed to support the jail building.

To fit the new budget constraints, the project had to be scaled back. Some options were lost, and the building was cut from two stories to one. Now, the only remnant of the lost second story is the centrally located control room, which can offer jailers a live look through mirrored glass at each of the jail’s seven pods.

Seattle design firm DLR Group provided important insight, Barney said. The firm specializes in government and institutional buildings, and early in the design process, it organized a tour of its other projects for Crook County officials to use in brainstorming.

One of DLR’s suggestions involves the jail’s kitchen, which has been somewhat overbuilt. Inmates in Crook County are currently fed freeze-dried meals shipped from Salem. It’s a cheap option and leaves minimal cooking or food prep performed on-site, Gautney said. But the new facility will have a full kitchen, in case officials ever change their minds about freeze-dried food.

“We were told it was a lot cheaper to do it now, rather have to come back and add it later,” Gautney said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,