County locks in jail siteA new milestone has been reached in Douglas County’s long quest for a new jail. At a special meeting Monday morning, the Douglas County Board reaffirmed its plans to build a new jail at the site of the current public works center along 3rd Avenue West by giving the architectural firm the green light to proceed with the project.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
A new milestone has been reached in Douglas County’s long quest for a new jail.
At a special meeting Monday morning, the Douglas County Board reaffirmed its plans to build a new jail at the site of the current public works center along 3rd Avenue West by giving the architectural firm the green light to proceed with the project.
The board spent much of the three-hour meeting going over more than $1 million worth of cost-cutting measures that will keep the jail to within $16,700 of the $15.7 million it originally budgeted toward the construction costs this past May. (Building a new public works center near the Douglas County fairgrounds will add another $8.3 million to the cost.)
Bruce Schwartzman with Klein McCarthy Architects said he was confident that minor tweaking would bring the jail project under budget.
When Schwartzman asked the board for direction on how to proceed, county coordinator Bill Schalow recommended the board to take a vote instead of just giving a general consensus.
“You’ve reached a milestone here,” Schalow told the board. “This would mean that you’re locked into what you are doing.”
The board voted 4-0 to proceed with the plan as presented. (Commissioner Paul Anderson wasn’t able to attend the meeting.)
The county plans to call for bids in February, start construction next spring and complete the design and development phase by the end of next October.
This would meet the state-imposed deadline of starting substantial work on a new jail by August 1, 2009.
The board has spent a lot of time trying to whittle down the construction costs of the jail project this summer. The original plans came in more than $1.2 million over budget.
It saved about $200,000 by deciding to keep the emergency operations center at the law enforcement center instead of below the jail.
Other recent cost-saving ideas included:
• Reducing the total square footage of the facility by 1,757 feet, a savings of $257,000.
• Reducing the amount of windows in jail cells, a savings of $113,000. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) requires three square feet of light per cell. The county’s plan will still meet that by using skylights.
• Eliminating the mechanical penthouse and use rooftop equipment instead, a savings of $148,000. There was some concern whether this would lead to more noise in the cells but tours of other jail facilities showed it shouldn’t be a problem.
• Using a cheaper installation method of building the roof system, a savings of $50,000.
• Leasing, instead of purchasing, a back-up generator, a savings of $210,000.
• Leasing, instead of purchasing, security cameras, a savings of $43,000.
• Changing the flooring used in some parts of the facility from tile to sealed concrete, a savings of $15,000.
• Other miscellaneous cost cutting, such as reducing the number of windows in the inmate recreational area from four to two; eliminating an unnecessary fire wall; and installing a mesh curtain.
Plans call for a 156-bed facility if every cell was double-bunked. The DOC requires that certain inmates, because of the offense they committed, can’t be housed in the same cell as others. This reduces the total bed capacity to 140 beds.
Right now, the jail and the minimum-security annex house about 70 inmates.
If the county’s average daily population of inmates in the new jail reaches 100 or more, the DOC would require another “post” – or five more jail employees.
Commissioner Jerry Johnson expressed concern that hiring five more employees could cost $250,000 or more. He asked Sheriff Troy Wolbersen if he would have enough money in his budget to cover that kind of expense.
Wolbersen said that the authority to hire more workers rests with the county board and that he wouldn’t hire more people without consulting with the board first.
After more discussion, the board agreed that if the inmate population approaches 100, it would have time to crunch the numbers to see if it would make more economical sense to hire additional workers, pay existing employees overtime or send prisoners elsewhere to keep the population below the 100 mark.
Johnson told Schwartzman that the county should try to call for bids as soon as possible on the pre-cast concrete work. Schwartzman said the work could be bid separately with only a minimum amount of extra expense, such as advertising.
The next jail meeting was set for September 3 at 10:15 a.m. At Wolbersen’s request, the site of the meeting may be changed to one that’s more fitting for an informal work session than the commissioners’ meeting room. Schalow said he’d see if the public works building would be available.