County administrator expects jail expansion to cost up to $30 million

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug estimates an expansion of the Douglas County Jail will carry a price tag of between $20 million and $30 million.

“I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate that might be,” Weinaug said, referring to the fact that there is still much information gathering to be done on the project. “We know it’s a big item.”

County officials have said rising inmate populations and an increased obligation to provide mental health services will necessitate an expansion within three years. The jail opened in 1999, featuring 196 beds for a price of $22 million.

During its Wednesday meeting, the Douglas County Commission spent about an hour and a half discussing upcoming infrastructure projects. In documents provided at the meeting, under the category of “Jail Expansion,” a $20 million price tag was listed. Weinaug called that number a “placeholder.”

The county set aside $100,000 in 2014 to house excess Douglas County inmates in other counties. For 2015, the county budgeted $250,000 to do the same.

A mechanism for funding the project has yet to be determined, but Weinaug said the mill levy would no doubt be affected. He could not quantify how much.

Back in October, the commission hired Treanor Architects to conduct a yearlong study of what specific needs a jail expansion would have to address. The study will evaluate who would benefit from access to a mental health “crisis intervention center” and how frequently it would be used.

Research on how other detention centers use mental health wards and the required staff needed will also be conducted.

“It’s a very expensive operation or service to provide,” Weinaug said of the mental health facilities.

Weinaug also added the county will solicit input from the public as well.

“We’ve got so many things we’ve got to do” before nailing down a price, he said.

County officials on Wednesday briefly tossed around ideas for financing the jail expansion and the improvements to the county’s fairgrounds. They spoke of the possibility of creating a “public building commission,” or PBC, which would take charge of gathering the funds necessary for the project.

A PBC would be composed of individuals appointed by the County Commission, Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. She added the County Commission will hold a work session before January to further examine funding options.