Jail preliminary concept plan

Blueprints of the north option preliminary concept plan for the Washington County Justice Center.

In a leap of progress toward the long-anticipated jail project, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved pursuing a voted bond issue to finance the endeavor. The motion included intent for an on-site north side option, which was previously presented to the board by Prochaska and Associates, the consulting firm engaged by the county to develop the project. The concept plan remains preliminary, and will likely include a number of changes before it is completely adopted.

The motion, made by supervisor Andy Andreason, District 7-Blair, was approved 6-1, with supervisor Steve Kruger, District 6-Arlington, voting nay. Kruger initially moved simply to pursue a bond issue as the project's financing option. Jail committee chair and supervisor Jay Anderson, District 5-Blair, suggested that the motion made by Kruger be narrowed to include the preliminary concept plan.

Kruger stated that he would not vote for a north side jail option because he was not in favor of the jail addition being underground, due to a variety of perceived architectural and/or engineering setbacks, including his reluctance toward the use of skylights. Kruger also cited concerns about the groundwater beneath the existing structure.

"I have some real concerns about putting a jail underground, just for future use," Kruger said. "There seems to be some issues with water that, even though (Prochaska) says there aren't, we are still going to have to have (some studies conducted) long-term. It needs to be all above ground."

During the meeting, Don Prochaska, president of Prochaska and Associates, and Curt Field, a project manager with the firm, presented the findings of a groundwater study conducted by O'Malley Drilling. The study was ordered by the supervisors Nov. 28 in order to determine the viability of the courthouse site.

"As was expected, there are some water levels that we learned about," Prochaska said. "Nothing really to get excited about, nothing out of the ordinary."

Prochaska and Field presented a number of options for containing the water found on-site. The groundwater study conducted by O'Malley, which cost $920, was not a complete geotechnical study. Prochaska representatives advised one be conducted further on in the process.

"These studies don't make a recommendation to build or not to build, they just tell you where water was discovered ... We saw nothing in this that would alarm us at all," Field concluded. "We would still recommend that geotechnical boring once we have the building perimeters established."

The supervisors opted to pursue a voted bond issue due to the potential budget shortfall of a 5.2 cent tax levy, commonly referred to as a nickel tax. On Nov. 28, DA Davidson bond consultant Phil Lorenzen, brother of board chairman Carl Lorenzen, District 4-Blair, recommended the bond issue be utilized to fund the project.

Phil Lorenzen reported that under the nickel tax, the board would be unable to finance the jail project. He estimated the maximum borrowing under a nickel tax at $15 to $16 million. Prochaska and Associates have estimated the cost of the project at approximately $20 million.

Pursuing a bond issue would allow the county to finance the entire project without having to make any cuts to much-needed updates. The jail has long been considered inadequate, causing the county to hemorrhage money transporting prisoners to other jails across the state after it was reduced to a 15-bed facility. The jail was built in 1978.

"We're not trying to build the Taj Mahal here," said supervisor Bob Frahm, District 3-Blair. "It's just for needs. We're building a jail that meets the needs of this county."

In order to bring a bond issue to a vote on the May 15 Nebraska Primary Election ballot, the county will need to have necessary procedures completed by March 1. A bond issue would give the county more flexibility due to the fact that it can be issued over a course of time, allowing the county to borrow money on an as-needed basis.

Prochaska was considerably less optimistic, telling the board he was concerned about the viability of a bond issue for the project.

"Although I'm not a gambler, I don't think you're prepared to win a referendum in terms of financing," he said.

If a bond issue were to fail, supervisors could pursue the 5.2 tax levy, although the project would need to be scaled back considerably.

Supervisors were in agreement about the pursuance of a voted bond issue to finance the project, but Kruger dissented about the north side option. Steve Dethlefs, District 1-Fort Calhoun, initially seconded Kruger's motion, but rescinded his second after Anderson suggested the motion be narrowed to include which concept plan would be pursued. Kruger's original motion then failed due to lack of a second.

"Yeah, you support a bond issue, but 'I'm only going to build something if I like the way it's built.' You can't operate like that," Anderson told Kruger. "I respect your opinion, but I want to get to what (the project) actually is instead of skirting around it."

Finally, Carl Lorenzen suggested the county pursue a reimbursement resolution for hard and soft costs toward the jail project. This would allow the bond issue, if it were to pass, to cover costs that have as yet been paid to Prochaska and Associates for the project, and any future costs incurred prior to the funding being acquired. The drafting of such a document was authorized in a unanimous vote.

"I want to thank the board," Lorenzen said following the resolution vote. "I think we made pretty positive progress today."

Following the passing of that motion, Anderson asked that the board adopt a request for proposal (RFP) for a construction manager at-risk (CMAR) for the project. A CMAR creates a development based upon a client's specifications. The client could then reject the development if it did not meet parameters of the contract.

"(The RFP) is just to solicit proposals to have people apply for the CMAR position," Anderson said. "It does not commit us to paying anybody or hiring anybody, this is simply a resolution that we want to engage a CMAR and we want to put out an RFP."

The RFP process takes about a month. Once proposals are received, the county will review them and likely select a candidate through a specially-formed committee. County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf's office drafted the proposal request for the project.

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