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September 26, 2007 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Jail Estimate Surprises County

Planning Will Cost More Than Expected

By John Craig, Staff writer

Spokane County commissioners learned Tuesday that preliminary planning for a new jail will cost more than twice as much as expected -- at least $736,690 and as much as $1.2 million.

"Isn't that a lot more?" Commissioner Bonnie Mager asked rhetorically.

Sheriff's Lt. Mike Sparber, the project manager, predicted the cost would be $250,000 to $300,000 last month when commissioners adopted a Sheriff's Office recommendation to negotiate a contract with Spokane-based Integrus Architecture.

The contract calls for identifying a site and other preliminary work but wouldn't cover design of the new low- and medium-security jail that is to supplement the current high-security jail.

Commissioners took the proposal under advisement and may act on it Tuesday.

Commissioner Mark Richard said he thought all the commissioners shared Mager's concern. He noted that commissioners weren't told how much other architectural firms under consideration might have charged.

He asked whether Sparber recommended going ahead with the contract, and Sparber said he did.

Sparber cited county officials' desire to place a construction bond measure on the November 2008 general election ballot.

Richard said commissioners have confidence in Integrus, but he called for a contract that specifies the county will be charged less if the work turns out to be less complicated than expected.

Don Coon, the county's design and construction manager, said last month's lower cost estimate was wrong because he was unaware of a relatively new state law requiring a detailed review of at least 10 alternatives when planning "essential public facilities" such as jails and sewage treatment plants.

The county has land available next to the current jail, but alternate sites haven't been identified. That's one reason for the higher-than-expected fee proposal, said Marlena Guhlke of CH2M Hill, which would help perform the study as a contractor.

A promising alternate site might prove controversial and require a full environmental impact statement, Guhlke said.

The proposed fee schedule calls for a $388,200 addition for basic environmental reviews and $100,360 more if a full environmental impact statement is needed.

The two additions, on top of the $736,690 base price, bring the total to nearly $1,225,250.

Jerry Winkler, of Integrus Architecture, said he hopes to narrow the potential sites to three by November. Commissioner Todd Mielke called that "a pretty aggressive deadline."

Marshall Farnell, the county's chief executive officer, called for the study to provide a detailed analysis of operating costs for the proposed jail. County officials want the facility to require lower staffing levels than the current jail, he said.

The new jail should be designed with "scalability," so parts of it can be closed if necessary, officials said.

The commissioners' attorney, Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Jim Emacio, said the current jail -- also designed by Integrus -- was supposed to reduce operating costs "and that didn't pan out."

"I think we learned from those issues," Winkler said.

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