The Knox County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the hiring of Garmong Construction, Terre Haute, to oversee the construction of a multi-million dollar expansion to the Knox County Jail.

Members of a jail committee charged with paving the way forward met last week and considered two proposals from two construction management companies interested in taking the estimated $30 million project on, eventually opting to recommend to the commissioners Garmong, the same company that oversaw the 4-year $40 million renovation of the Vincennes Community School Corp.’s neighborhood elementary schools.

In the end, commissioner T.J. Brink said the committee decided Garmong simply had more experience in building jails, what with having taken on as many as 15 in recent years, including a $65 million project in Vigo County right now.

“It’s not just a building we’re doing here,” Brink said. “It’s a multi-million dollar structure for a jail and community corrections.”

Commissioner Kellie Streeter commended the committee for carefully considering both proposals — the other came from Envoy Inc. in Evansville — and she agreed that Garmong was likely the best choice; they’ve been readily available, she pointed out, for more than two years as the county has considered such an expansion.

“You have always been available to us to answer questions, always come to our meetings, and I appreciate your continued interest in Knox County,” she told Ralph Wagle, a business developer with Garmong, who was sitting in the audience Tuesday morning at the Pantheon, 428 Main St.

“I believe you will serve us well,” she said.

Streeter did, however, say she was “surprised by a lack of bidders.”

The county sought five such construction management companies to submit proposals, but only two did.

Now it will be up to the commissioners’ legal counsel, Barnes and Thornburg in Indianapolis, to work with Garmong and negotiate a contract, the key piece being Garmong’s fee, which is typically a percentage of the overall project.

Traditionally, cities and counties, when they embark upon a major project, hire an architect to design it then let construction out for bid, awarding the contract to the lowest bidder. But there are other options for a project of this scope and size, and many government entities, the commissioners have learned in recent months, find benefit in hiring a construction manager at the very beginning to help guide them through the process.

It can also result in cost savings, as going this route eliminates the possibility of multiple change orders (since the construction management company takes on more of that risk) and bid packages, too, can be tailored to attract more local business.

Wagle said the company looked forward to working with Knox County.

“We have a high level of confidence that we can put this together on budget and give you the building you need,” he said.

Next up, Brink, who has been leading the jail committee, said it will be up to the county council to decide on a budget for the overall project.

The council — the county’s fiscal body — has been working Bondry Management Consultants in Carmel to find the money it needs to take on the project.

The county is looking to leverage the income from the reinstated jail tax to bond just over $23 million and combine that with $2.75 million in cash on hand.

The current project, however, is expected to cost closer to $32 million, according to a preliminary design done by local firm RQAW. It includes both the addition of a new jail pod to the facility at 2375 S. Old Decker Road as well as a building to house community corrections next door, moving from its current downtown location inside the old jail.

But RQAW architect Lara Dawson has said that there are options, as the county moves forward, to adjust the design to fit the budget, specifically in getting creative with the way the project is bid to contractors.

If the county is able to keep the project on its current expedited timeline, it’s still likely a year away from actually breaking ground.

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