Standing on the lower level of what will be the new Washington County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center on Thursday morning, Capt. Rob Bellamy looked back at the structure already completed.

“When you get down in here, you start to get a feeling of how immense this building is,” he said. “Obviously, once they start getting all the framing in, it will get closed in and tight pretty quickly.”

Justice center

Capt. Rob Bellamy, Washington County Jail administrator, and Matt Cavanaugh, project engineer for Weitz Company, talk Thursday during a tour of the construction site for the new Washington County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center in Blair.

Excitement is building in anticipation of the facility's opening, which is slated for May 1, according to Matt Cavanaugh, project engineer with Weitz Company.

“There are a lot of emotions,” said Bellamy who serves as the jail administrator. “Not only me, but everybody here at the sheriff's office is very excited for it.”

Construction on the new $20.9 million facility began just over a year ago, and despite a 58-day delay due to groundwater and soil issues, work has progressed steadily.

Justice center

The entrance to the new Washington County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center.

The roof of the sheriff's office is expected to be completed within the next week or two, which will allow for framing on the main level to begin as early as the end of this month. However, Cavanaugh said, crews will continue to work on the rest of the facility.

“We still want to maximize our progress going east as much as we can because what we want to do before it gets cold is be able to enclose everything so then we can really attack this,” he said.

Justice center

Construction crews work in the lower level of the Washington County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center. This space will be the new county courtroom.

In the lower level, crews have already framed the offices for the clerk magistrate and county court judge, meeting rooms, restrooms, inmate staging area and the much larger courtroom.

“Compared to what we have in county court now, this will be a huge room,” Bellamy said.

Construction on the jail portion of the facility is expected to progress quickly as the individual jails cells are prefabricated.

But what could prove to be challenging is keeping the current jail open in order to have the new facility ready by May 1.

“Getting the kitchen up and going is an integral piece to obviously having a working facility,” Cavanaugh said. “That's something we've been discussing.”

Bellamy said the county is anticipating losing about two-thirds of the jail in the process to create a functioning kitchen and laundry facility, which will be part of the renovations in the existing jail.

Justice center

Masons on the block walls for the new Washington County Law Enforcement and Justice Center.

“We're going to try to remain functional if we can, but if it becomes something that stifles the process or delays progress, we'll figure a new approach and work it out,” Bellamy said.

Still, there is a possibility the county could have to ship all inmates to other locations.

“I'm hoping we don't have to go there because it would be very difficult. Because what do you do when the deputies or Blair (police) arrest somebody? Where do you go with them?” he said.

However, once the justice center is complete, Washington County's inmates will be moved in to eliminate housing costs at other facilities. Bellamy said there will be a transition period as he and his staff become comfortable and understand the building before taking in additional inmates from other area counties.

“I think it will happen even quicker than we realize, but there is going to be a learning curve there and there is going to be a period of time when the comfort level is not going to be great,” Bellamy said.

Justice center

An atrium in the main level will allow for light in the lower level of the Washington County Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Center.

However, Bellamy anticipates the county will utilize most of the 120 beds that will be available.

“It's a promise we made to the voters,” he said. “Anything we can do to help offset the cost definitely needs to happen.”

As he walked back to the sheriff's office, Bellamy praised Weitz Company in their efforts as construction manager at risk for the project.

“I've never worked with somebody on this magnitude of a project that they do whatever they have to do in the best interest of the county,” he said. “That's very refreshing to have that happen.”

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