Jail Financing To Follow Recognizable Route

September 3, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County is going down a familiar fiscal path as it gets ready to upgrade the jail, a trail it took nearly 20 years ago when voters first approved the corrections and detention millage.

And the first step down that road has the county calling for design bids, action the county will take later this month.

“We’re reviewing best project delivery options, so we will be seeking proposals from architects and engineers in mid- to late September. We will award the contract for the architect and engineer work sometime in November of this year,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

Delabbio added the county hopes to begin construction in November or December of next year, with the work to be completed in December 2011.

The jail, located on the county’s Fuller Avenue Campus on the city’s near northeast side, has five sections. The two newest were built in 1992, construction that was fueled by the corrections and detention millage voters approved in 1990. The county sold bonds that year to fund the building of those sections after the millage was ratified.

“On those bonds, there is still a balance outstanding that will be paid off in 2010,” said County Fiscal Services Director Robert White to county commissioners in May.

The new project has been estimated to cost $27 million. Delabbio said the county will follow the same financing route it took 20 years ago by issuing a 20-year bond to pay for the design and construction work.

“We will probably do that sometime in 2009,” he said.

White said the debt service on the new bond will run from $1.8 million to $2 million a year beginning in 2010, the last year for the 1990 bond. The debt service on the old debt is about $1.2 million a year.

“You are simply replacing one issue that expires in 2010 with a new issue in 2011, at a slightly higher cost,” White told commissioners.

Those 1992 “pods” produced 363 beds and have been rated as being up-to-date, well maintained and in good working condition. The sections have been reconfigured over the years to allow for a mental health unit to be added, along with another 170 beds.

Another section of the jail was constructed from 1976 through 1983. Renovations were also made to those portions during that seven-year stretch.

It’s the other two sections — the oldest parts of the jail — the county will replace. One was built in 1958, the other in 1974. Those portions house over 500 medium- and maximum-security inmates, or 35 percent of the jail’s total capacity.

A study conducted for the county in 1990 reported that the 1958 section was outdated then, as it “no longer reflects the state-of-the-art in jail design and management.”

A more recent survey of those sections revealed that the heating and cooling systems were inefficient, the fire suppression systems were archaic, and the electrical systems were running at full capacity.

That 2006 architectural and engineering study told the county it should replace the oldest sections because “age, design and construction obsolescence, outdated technology and other factors make continued use hazardous, wasteful and ineffective.”

Steve Hudenko, of the county’s Facilities Management department, told commissioners earlier this year that the infrastructure in the 1958 section varied by floor. He gave the third floor a passing grade of C, but slapped an F-grade on the first floor.

The jail has 1,170 beds, an annual budget of $36 million and more than 29,000 offenders were booked there last year. The new section will be built on a site just to the northwest of the 1992 pods, and the oldest sections will remain open until construction is completed.

The county still has to determine how many beds the new section will ultimately have, as the work is not being seen as a bed-for-bed replacement project.

“A lot is going to depend on our discussions with the Sheriff’s Department on the best ways to approach the needs and the budget that we’re operating under,” said Delabbio. “So that is going to be the dialogue that takes place in the future. But it’s highly unlikely that it will be a bed-for-bed replacement.” LQX

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