News

Juvenile Detention Center in trouble

Island County officials learned Tuesday that the lowest bid for the 22-bed Juvenile Detention Center came in at $724,402 more than the county architect’s estimate of just over $4.5 million.

“The news is not good,” Bill Oakes, Island County public works director, told the county commissioners Wednesday.

The news left planners scrambling to decide how to proceed with the facility. Oakes said the county has two options to consider — redesigning and scaling back the building or somehow finding the necessary funds for the project. The county has until the end of January to make its decision before the bid expires.

“Island County doesn’t have an extra $800,000 readily available to fund this project,” Budget Director Elaine Marlow said. “I don’t think (the facility is) in jeopardy, but there’s going to be some hard choices made.”

Marlow would not speculate as to what direction the commissioners might choose to proceed. A more firm recommendation will be in place by the week of Dec. 13, she said.

Money for the jail comes from a 1998 voter-approved sales tax of .01 percent. Marlow said the fund for the center currently has approximately $3.4 million. The county opted to use money from the real estate tax fund instead of delaying the project further because that would only cause prices to increase further. Marlow said the facility will utilize approximately $1 million in real estate taxes.

Juvenile Services Director Mike Merringer said the news of the bid amounts stunned him.

“I was disappointed for sure,” he said. “I think everybody went into this process with their fingers crossed.”

Merringer said he will meet with Marlow and Oakes to determine how to proceed with the project. He said his preference would be to see the building built as quickly as possible.

“We’ve had some challenges in the past and, hopefully, we’ll get past these challenges,” Merringer said. “We’re just trying to figure out what our options are.”

Oakes said the reason the price came in so high was simple supply and demand. The demand for such construction products as concrete and steel has driven prices well above the three-percent inflation index predicted. Instead, prices will increase by approximately 13 percent by year’s end, he said.

“You never know the cost of the building until you put it out for bid,” Oakes said.

The county had budgeted for the building by accounting for a three percent inflation index over the original architect’s estimate. The bid came in at 16 percent above the estimate.

The apparent low bidder for the contract was Ebenal General Contractors out of Bellingham.

“The timing of the project’s what’s killing us,” Marlow said. “Construction costs are going through the roof.”

For now, the project is still going to proceed. Oakes said that he will continue meeting with juvenile services and Marlow to discuss the future of the project. It does not seem likely, however, that it will continue in its current design.

“If the juvenile detention folks feel they can’t scale the building back, then we have to look for funds,” Oakes said. “But it’s either we redesign the building and downsize the structure and rebid it, or the county finds a way to finance it.”

The county is set to appropriate its 2005 budget at a public hearing at 10:35 a.m. Monday, Dec. 6. It currently has approximately $5.5 million allocated for the project.

In addition to the $5.2 million in building costs, the facility needs another $500,000 in equipment costs, Marlow said.

Island County isn’t the only local entity dealing with skyrocketing building costs. The Coupeville School Board will also meet Monday to discuss the new high school project, which may also have to be scaled back.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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