Douglas County Commission voices support for proposed $4 million jail maintenance project

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister explains the need of a proposed jail maintenance project to the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The proposed project is estimated to cost $4 million.

Douglas County will move forward on a county jail maintenance project estimated to cost about $4 million after the County Commission on Wednesday signed off on the plan.

The County Commissioners also explored an idea that would have paired the maintenance projects with a larger remodel of the facility, but ultimately decided to follow the county’s original proposal because of the immediate need for the upgrades.

“This list of maintenance projects are acute needs,” Commissioner Shannon Reid said. “Big ideas and creative solutions to other issues, I’m here for and I’m excited for those conversations, but I’m nervous to tie them to this particular deferred maintenance package,” she added.


Douglas County Commission to discuss $4 million worth of jail maintenance improvements

The County Commission came to a general consensus to support the maintenance project that includes parking and curb resurfacing, elevator upgrades and sanitary plumbing replacements. It also includes upgrades to the facility’s central plant, which houses its HVAC system, and the facility’s sliding detention doors that are used for managing the jail inmate population.

The discussion on the plan occurred during a work session, where the commissioners don’t consider formal action. The commissioners will be asked to formally approve the project at a later meeting.

Jay Zimmerschied, the county’s director of capital projects, said the maintenance upgrades are needed because none of the items in the plan have been improved since the facility was built in the 1990s, and they are all reaching their life expectancy. He said the plan is proactive, addressing the issues before the items fail, which would require more expensive replacements.

All of the upgrades were originally slated to be completed in the county’s controversial jail expansion project, but that plan was discontinued in the fall, leaving the maintenance projects undone. While the expansion project will not continue, Zimmerschied said the county will be able to amend the expansion project contract with Turner Construction to complete the maintenance projects instead.

Additionally, funds originally slated for the expansion project could be used to fund the maintenance project, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said. The previous County Commission set aside funds in various parts of its budget to be used for part of the jail expansion project. Those funds currently sit at about $11 million, she said.

Before signing off on the plan, the commissioners asked if it were possible to pair the maintenance projects with a jail remodeling project Sheriff Jay Armbrister had previously said he plans to propose, suggesting it could save the county money.

That project, which Armbrister mentioned during a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting last month, would remodel the jail to make its physical space more efficient. It would include moving the county’s current work release program out of the facility, and using that part of the facility for other purposes, among other things. The plan aims to help increase the jail’s functional capacity without increasing the facility’s footprint.

However, Armbrister told the commissioners Wednesday that those plans are in the early stages, and it may take time for that to come together as a formal proposal. Plinsky said Armbrister may need to work with a design firm to discuss his ideas and work on an official construction project, but that process could take up to a year and a half. Meanwhile, the maintenance projects would be better off addressed sooner rather than later, Armbrister said.

Echoing Reid’s comments, Commissioner Patrick Kelly said the county needed to move forward with the two plans separately.

“In an ideal world, we would be able to do some of Sheriff Armbrister’s ideas at the same time,” Kelly said. “But I think we can’t put this maintenance off any longer, and we’re just going to have to move ahead.”

In other business, the commissioners approved the purchase of new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office at a cost of $290,000. The item was originally slated to be included in the meeting’s consent agenda, but Reid asked to discuss details on how the purchase process works and what would happen to the older vehicles that were being replaced.

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