County leaders will wait about a month to decide whether to hire Badding Construction to build a new jail downtown as they seek ways to reduce its cost.
The lowest construction bid for the jail that county supervisors received last week from Badding was about $2 million in excess of what voters agreed in November to borrow to pay for the project.
It was the second jail project that Shive-Hattery — an architecture and engineering firm in West Des Moines — recently misestimated. The other in Warren County was about $7 million off.
Mike Lewis, a team leader for Shive-Hattery, told Carroll supervisors Monday morning that unspecified “market conditions” led to higher costs. Since Thursday, when the bids were received, Lewis has identified ways to shave an estimated $900,000 off the total project cost — including reducing the number of inmate beds from 42 to 32 and scaling back the jail’s kitchen to the point where meals cannot be prepared on-site.
Perhaps the most substantial change discussed Monday was to eliminate parking in the building and lower it by an entire floor, which Supervisor Rich Ruggles suggested.
Lewis said such a change likely would require the supervisors to start the bidding process again. It’s unclear how much that would affect the construction costs.
The supervisors voted 4-1 Monday to work with Badding in the next month to find ways to cut costs and keep the project at the downtown location.
The lone dissenting vote was from Supervisor Dean Schettler, who has pushed to build the jail away from downtown.
“We’re asking the taxpayers for another $1 million-plus (over the $8.95 million bond referendum),” Schettler said. “If you increase the cost of this to $10 million, all of the items that you said we were going to save by locating here as opposed to a green space, all those savings are gone.”
The downtown location is advantageous for security and ongoing operational expenses. If the jail is located away from the courthouse, inmates will need to be transported to the courthouse for some court hearings.
That issue has been partially alleviated by technology in recent years, as most initial appearances for criminal defendants are done via video conference.
Supervisor Neil Bock said the county could use its cash reserves to help pay for the project. County Auditor Kourtney Irlbeck identified about $800,000 available in the reserves for the project during Monday’s meeting.
“I’m not opposed to looking at a green space (to build the jail away from downtown), but I think we’d have so many safety issues,” Bock said. “I don’t think green space would save us all that much money.”
Ruggles — who suggested enrolling 110 acres of cropland the county owns into the federal Conservation Reserve Program to get extra money for the jail project — said a downtown jail likely will require the county to spend more money than it had initially anticipated, regardless of the cost reductions that Shive-Hattery finds.
Lewis “can wave his magic wand all that he wants, but we’re quite a ways off,” Ruggles said of the disparity between the bids and the referendum amount. “We’re going to have to find other funds.”