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Supervisors might consider new location for jail

Bids for the proposed downtown jail exceeded projected costs by millions

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It’s possible that a new county jail might be built away from downtown Carroll after bids for the project greatly exceeded what county supervisors intend to spend.

“It’s an option,” Supervisor Neil Bock said Thursday about a potential location change.

Voters approved in November a nearly $9 million bond referendum to pay for the project. The lowest bid — which was revealed Thursday — was about $10.9 million. The highest of the four bids was $12.7 million.

“It’s not a small difference,” Bock said. “It’s a significant difference.”

Bock and the four other supervisors were expected to discuss the issue Monday at their regularly scheduled meeting. The project has already been delayed at least a month as county leaders worked with the project’s planners to finalize their plans, and they have lamented the likely increases in costs that would accompany further delays.

The supervisors have relied on Shive-Hattery, an architecture and engineering firm in West Des Moines, to guide them through the jail-building process. Shive-Hattery was also contracted for similar work in Warren County, where earlier this month the county’s projected $30 million jail and courthouse project received a low bid that exceeded that projection by $7 million.

“I was a little shocked,” Supervisor Stephanie Hausman said. “What happened? Where did Shive-Hattery go wrong?”

Hausman said a Shive-Hattery representative attributed the incorrect projection to “not understanding what was going on in the market right now.”

The project has had its detractors among local business owners, who have said the proposed jail — a building nearly the size of the courthouse to be located adjacently west of it — is a poor fit in the downtown business district. City leaders had also urged county officials to alter the design of the proposed building’s Main Street entrance that would incur a further $55,000 cost, based on the lowest bid.

That bid came from Badding Construction, of Carroll. The base bids for the project were:

— Badding Construction: $10.9 million.

— Steffes Companies, of Milford: $11.4 million.

— Sampson Construction, of Omaha: $11.5 million.

— Woodruff Construction, of Fort Dodge: $12.7 million.

“Personally, I was not surprised,” Supervisor Dean Schettler said of the higher-than-expected bids. He was the lone supervisor who was publicly leery of the proposed downtown location. “I would like to see them reconsider a different location.”

All five supervisors told the Times Herald that they were open to relocating the new jail to a different site. However, a remote location would increase operational costs, primarily due to transporting jail inmates to and from the courthouse for court hearings.

The proposed downtown jail includes a secured path from the jail to the district courtroom, which starkly contrasts the current situation — the inmates are escorted from the jail in a lower floor of the courthouse via a public elevator to the top floor, which increases the inmates’ contact with visitors.

The supervisors said they would also seek options to modify the proposed building to bring costs down, but they conceded that there is a significant gap between what voters agreed to borrow and the lowest bid.

“I think that we’re going to do the best we can to find a path forward,” Supervisor Rich Ruggles said. “What that path looks like is the big question.”

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