Jail project estimated at $35 million

Published 9:54 am Friday, September 5, 2008

“Sticker shock” greeted the Mower County Board of Commissioners Thursday night, when they learned how much it will cost to build a new jail and justice center.

“I think the building committee has a case of sticker shock after what we heard tonight,” said Ray Tucker, 2nd District county commissioner and chairman of the building committee.

Dave Tollefson, 5th District county commissioner and the other member of the building committee agreed, but also said, “We’re going to have to rely on the bids when they come in for the project. Hopefully, with competition for work and all they will bring it down.”

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The sticker shock was unveiled Thursday night, when the commissioners hosted a public meeting with KKE Architects, Inc. and Knutson Construction Services, the construction management firm for the project.

Also present was a representative from Northland Securities, the bonding counsel retained by the county.

Only 20 people attended, but they heard plenty. According to the architects and construction manager it will cost $35,434,674 to build the proposed new 128-bed jail and justice center in downtown Austin.

That figure was computed despite some 80 changes made to the original schematic design of the new facilities and a reduction of 1,000 square feet in the design now at 101,000 square feet on two levels.

No definitive reasons for the price increases were given. However, it was learned the Minneseota Department of Corrections (DOC) has been a part of the discussions on staffing and other specificities of the jail such as staffing.

Coounty officials have blamed the DOC for many of their alleged jail over-crowding woes, including the lattest reduction to a 90-day lockup Mower County Jail.

Sara Douty, Austin Main Street Project coordinator, was the first to point out, the commissioners had set a ceiling of bonding for $27-million to finance a project originally projected to cost $30 million.

“We’re looking at around $36-million in up front costs on this project,” Douty began. “This does not include the $800,000 you have set aside for law enforcement center remodeling, plus the expected increases in staffing costs due to a much larger jail and justice center.”

“Then, you set a ceiling of $27-million in bonds for the project,” she added.

“How are we going to pay for this?” she asked.

Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, said the county has an estimated $3-million in reserves to help reduce the amount that will need to be raised by bonding.

Also, he said the commissioners had recently agreed to use wind output energy tax revenues on the project.

The meeting was light on questions from the audience. First District county commissioner candidate Dan Vermilyea asked the most, but only one private citizen spoke out.

Paul Helms pointed to cost savings measures in place, such as the state’s reduction of district court administration hours of service and the possibility a four-day work week could be considered by the commissioners for Mower County’s future as another example of strained finances in county government.

“I just feel we are not being looked after in the county properly,” Helms said.

Oscarson began the two-hour meeting saying, “We’re at the end of the design development stage,” which he called the “second to the last stoplight in this process.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, the commissioners will meet in special session to decide whether or not to proceed further.

If they do, they will authorize the architects and construction management firms to proceed with bid specification prior to taking bids in January or February 2009.

“That will be the last stoplight in the whole process,” Oscarson said.

The Sept. 10 meeting begins 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room.