Knox County Jail

County officials leading a possible expansion to the Knox County Jail say despite a near 2-month pause, the project is still progressing.

It’s been nearly two months since members of a committee charged with overseeing an expansion to the Knox County Jail have met to discuss the project, but commissioner T.J. Brink says the pause may prove to be fruitful.

Brink told his fellow commissioners Tuesday as they met at the Pantheon, 428 Main St., that those leading the project “hit the pause button” after officials with Garmong Construction, Terre Haute, confirmed in late August that the project was, in fact, about $10 million over budget.

“But I’m glad we did,” Brink said, “because I think we’ll end up with a great project coming out of this.

“We’ve had some really good conversations, and there is a lot more on the drawing board right now.”

Brink said local officials later this month will meet with Rep. Tim Brown, R-Bloomington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, about a change in legislation that could potentially allow the county to extend the life of a bond over 25 years as opposed to the currently-allowed 22 years.

“That means we wouldn’t have to worry anymore,” Brink said, indicating that the additional time could allow the county to pay for the full $30 million project.

“If we’re able to accomplish that, we’d be able to put together a really great jail and an addition for community corrections.”

Brink, too, indicated that officials close to the project have investigated the possibility of changing delivery methods, meaning instead of the county working alongside Garmong to oversee the construction of the jail, moving to what is called a Build-Operate-Transfer method.

While the details associated with a BOT haven’t been discussed publicly, Brink indicated Garmong would stay on as construction manager but the county would grand concession to a private company to finance, build and operate the jail for a period of 20-30 years.

After that time, the project is then returned to the public entity that initiated construction.

But much, he added, is still to be decided.

“There comes a time when you say you just can’t cut anything else because then you’d lose what you’re trying to accomplish,” he told the commissioners. “We’re at that mark. We can’t cut any more.

“And we don’t want to look back and say, ‘Boy, we wish we wouldn’t have done that.’ We want a good project, one that will last us years, one we can all be very proud of.”

Brink, too, indicated that at least some cuts have been made to the previous $32 million design — about $2 million worth.

Knowing the project was more than the estimated $21 million the county currently has to spend, Lara Dawson, an architect with RQAW, Vincennes, previously said they’d identified about a dozen areas to cut — then handed those adjustments off to Garmong for pricing — but she warned the commissioners that they wouldn’t be near enough to make up the $10 million shortfall.

The county council, the county’s fiscal body, had hoped to leverage the income from the reinstated jail tax to bond just over $23 million and combine that with about $2.75 million in cash on hand.

As such, they only have just over $21 million to spend on actual construction.

The design currently includes three main parts: the new community corrections building, a new pod of 120 beds for the jail and an expansion to its intake area.

And all three, despite the cuts made so far, are still in tact, officials indicated Tuesday.

The commissioners began this process more than a year ago by hiring RQAW to take a look at the future needs of the jail. In presenting those findings, RQAW recommended the expansion, specifically the construction of an additional pod — more than doubling the jail’s current bed capacity.

The jail opened in 2007 to house 200 inmates, but it’s consistently been over capacity since.

The jail study also looked at the current community corrections building, which shares a space with the probation office downtown at 147 N. Eighth St.

It’s over-capacity most of the time, too, officials have said, and its design leaves them dependent upon video surveillance as opposed to direct supervision.

The county had been shooting for a December letting, with construction to follow in the spring, but with the delay, officials on Tuesday said that letting would now likely be pushed back to January.

But that’s not a bad thing, said Lance Gassert, a professional engineer with Garmong.

Given the volatility of the current construction market, “everything is a gamble,” he told the commissioners, but January can also be a “ideal” time to bid as contractors are looking to build business for the coming year.

It can also bring a more competitive bidding process.

Summer lettings, he said, can result in contractors being on vacation or simply too busy to take on more.

He did, however, say that expediency is key; if the county can can secure the necessary funding let the project in January, he would like to see the contract awarded within 60 days to secure those prices.

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