Douglas County commissioners direct staff to proceed with jail expansion design

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County Commission Vice Chair Patrick Kelly, right, shares his point of view about an expansion of the county jail during the commission's meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. At left is Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau.

Douglas County staff got a consensus from commissioners Wednesday evening to move forward on design plans for an estimated $23 million to $25 million expansion of the local jail.

Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky asked the commission to determine that the latest proposed design concept is the one that staff should continue to study and develop.

The new design would add a four-floor south tower to the jail, which could hold 84 inmates if three of those floors were used for housing; the fourth could either be an additional 28 beds, or it could be used for a medical unit. It would also add a new wing for 28 male and 14 female inmates in re-entry programs and who are eligible for work release. The jail currently holds 186 beds; the proposed additions would bring that total to 312 to 340 beds.

“I continue to be convinced that building out the south tower, building out all four units, and the re-entry building for those folks plus the programs they need gets us where we need to be, meets of all the goals we’ve set, and I think is the fiscally responsible approach,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said.

photo by: TreanorHL via Douglas County/Contributed Image

This design plan, first shared with the Douglas County Commission on Jan. 16, 2019, shows options of adding a south tower and a separate wing for re-entry programming at the Douglas County Jail.

Between the commission’s 4 and 6 p.m. meetings, five public commenters spoke specifically about the jail expansion issue.

Four people spoke out against the expansion. Three of them identified themselves as members of Justice Matters, a local organization that has vocally opposed expansion. In general, the four asked commissioners to ask more questions and conduct more studies before moving forward on the building project.

A fifth speaker said she knows how politically hard the issue has been for the commission. She said she thinks it’s important to address mental health and “catching people before they enter that (criminal justice) system,” but she doesn’t see how the county can move forward without the space to house people safely.

County Commission Vice Chair Patrick Kelly said he was convinced that the people who are in the jail are not in a safe or humane situation.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to put a lot of effort into studying … the situation that we currently have in our criminal justice system and why so many people are ending up there,” Kelly said, “but I think it’s important to make sure that the people who are currently housed — and we have that responsibility — to make sure that the people who are at the Douglas County Correctional Facility right now, both as inmates and as workers, are in a safe and humane situation.”

Thellman said adding space to the jail doesn’t mean stopping efforts to invest in social service programs and alternatives to incarceration — “For me it’s a both-and; it’s not either-or,” she said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, left, and Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau look toward a presentation on a design of a Douglas County Jail expansion during the governing board’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.

The commission also approved using a construction manager at risk, or CMR, delivery method, which means the county will hire a general contractor to be in charge of managing all the subcontractors involved in the project and who will present the county with a guaranteed maximum price.

The county has used the CMR method for projects in the past, but state statute says it must go through various procedural steps to consider an “alternative” delivery method, or anything other than design-bid-build. After holding the state-mandated public hearings on the method Wednesday, commissioners approved the CMR method for both the jail expansion and for housing components at the planned behavioral health campus, which will be built in the 1000 block of West Second Street.

The next step will be for county staff to issue requests for qualifications and proposals for construction managers. Plinsky told the commission it would probably take six to eight weeks for staff to go through the process and bring a recommendation for a firm back to the commission.

Commissioners have not approved a final plan to expand the jail.

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