The county will move ahead in selecting a construction manager to oversee a possible multi-million dollar jail expansion, the commissioners decided this week.
Members of a newly-formed jail committee met earlier this month and heard from representatives with Terre Haute-based construction company Garmong, the same company that oversaw the Vincennes Community School Corp.’s 4-year, $40 million neighborhood elementary school project.
To hire Garmong early on — or similar company — would allow the county to hand over the reigns of the project, so to speak. The county would still maintain complete control over how — and with what — it wants to move forward, but the construction manager would take on much of the responsibility for keeping it going, down to hiring sub-contractors to do the work.
The commissioners this week voted unanimously to move forward with seeking RFQs — or Request for Qualification documents — from construction management companies interested in the project.
There are only a few qualified for this kind of project in this general area, explained commissioner and jail committee member T.J. Brink, but he looks forward to hearing from those who choose to submit documents.
“At the end of the day, this project needs to be done right,” he said. “We, the commissioners, don’t have the expertise to run this day-to-day operation, but a construction management company does. This is what they do, and when you have a project of this magnitude, we need the best.
“I don’t take spending other people’s money lightly,” Brink said, “especially when we’re talking $25-$30 million. That’s a lot of money for Knox County.”
Brink, too, said he wants this new facility to last “a whole lot longer” than the 20 years it will likely take to pay it off.
“I want it to last for the next 50 years,” he said.
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, representatives from Garmong explained to the committee earlier this month, 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 local business.
There are many other jail projects happening all over the state, representatives with Garmong explained, and about 75% of them have gone the construction manager route.
Brink said he was “very comfortable, really comfortable” with the direction this project has taken, especially since county officials have gotten serious in their discussions over the last few months.
The jail committee, he said, has weighted multiple options over the last few weeks, toured the jail itself and heard from the local architect firm RQAW on three potential designs.
“Cuts and compromises” are inevitable, Brink ventured, but county officials are ready to move forward with something, especially since the county council more than a year reinstated the jail tax to help generate some of the funds necessary to pay for it.
More financial information, too, will come when the committee meets again early next month.
But for now, the commissioners want to see what construction managers out there have to offer.
“This doesn’t tie us into doing anything,” Brink explained, “but we’ll be ready to move forward.
“There aren’t very players who specialize in this kind of thing, so we’re not going to look at 100 different companies,” he said. “But we do want to look at all of our options.
“Spending this kind of money, we want every idea on the table.”
The commissioners, too, agreed that time is of the essence. The cost of materials, especially lumber, is skyrocketing.
“We’re wasting money,” said commissioner Kellie Streeter during their regular meeting this week. “Construction costs continue to rise, and there’s no telling how much we’ve potentially lost already.
“We need to move forward, full-steam ahead,” she said.
The jail committee was originally formed ago to discuss the need for more space at both the jail, 2375 S. Old Decker Road, as well as community corrections, located in a historic downtown building on North Eighth Street just across from the courthouse.
Both are at or over capacity, and the community corrections building is in dire need of repair.
The commissioners last year hired RQAW to take a look at the future needs of the jail, and in presenting those findings last summer, RQAW initially recommended a $32 million expansion, specifically the construction of an additional pod — more than doubling the jail’s current bed capacity — as well as a new, adjacent structure to house community corrections.
Other, lesser options, too, have been presented in the months since.