Douglas County Jail questions linger
As questions linger over the status of Douglas County's proposed new jail, county commissioners will have to wait a little longer for one in particular: How much will it cost?
County officials on Monday announced they had delayed the date for when the county will officially receive and open contractor bids for the project, currently estimated at $15.76 million but expected to be lower given the recession's effect on the construction industry.
Set to be built on the current public works site on 3rd Avenue West, the 55,000 square-foot facility would replace Douglas County's current downtown jail, which the Minnesota Department of Corrections has mandated be shutdown by next August unless it is brought up to code or the county has made "substantial" progress on a replacement facility.
Originally scheduled for Tuesday, the bid meeting was pushed back to 2 p.m. Thursday due to weather-related concerns.
It is unknown if the delay will affect the timetable for when commissioners plan to award contractor bids, currently planned for a special board meeting next Tuesday.
At a special jail committee meeting last Friday, professionals hired by the county to handle the project said with so many builders looking for work in a down economy, they expect bids to come in very favorably for the county.
Larry Filippi, of the construction-management firm Contegrity Group, Inc., said as of Friday he had already printed up 155 sets of the county's bid package for the jail, and he was still getting calls from interested contractors.
Douglas County received 134 total bids when it opened up the new public works building project for them last fall, Filippi said.
"I think we will probably see at least that [on the jail]," he said. "I think we will be a little heavy [in numbers of bids]."
Bruce Schwartzman, project manager for Klein McCarthy, the jail's architect, said his firm has seen bids for several similar recent projects come in 15 to 20 percent lower than projected.
"It is the perfect time to build a project like this," he said.
But will the bids for Douglas County's jail be low enough?
At the county board's last meeting February 27, two commissioners - Bev Bales and Norm Salto - voted not to move ahead with the project, citing concerns over whether local taxpayers, hard hit by a sharp economic downturn, could afford it. Commissioner Gerald Johnson has also expressed unease about the jail's projected price tag.
"This thing costs too much," Johnson said. "I wish we wouldn't be doing it, and the only reason I voted to continue [it] ... was because we don't really have another plan."
Johnson said, ultimately, he thinks the jail will get approved, but he said that could change depending on how low the construction bids are.
He said he would like the county to continue to explore alternative options, but with the state's August deadline, Douglas County is out of time.
"The only option we have is to go ahead with the plan we've got in place," Johnson said. "It's not a good option, it's not the best option, but it's the only one we've got."