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Juvenile jail gets go-ahead

Island County Commissioners agreed Wednesday to proceed with the construction of the Juvenile Detention Center despite the hurdle that the building will cost approximately $700,000 more than expected.

“We’re gonna go forward,” Commissioner Mike Shelton said Wednesday. “Maybe we don’t have all the funding formalized yet, but by the end of the 60-day period, we will award the bid.”

County officials scrambled to assemble alternatives for the project after the lowest bid for the 22-bed facility came in at $724,402 more than the county architect’s estimate of just over $4.5 million.

Ebenal General Contractors of Bellingham will probably be awarded the bid Monday.

“Delaying the project is costing me $50,000 a month at this point,” said Bill Oakes, Island County Public Works director.

The commissioners elected to proceed with the project, even though it currently is not fully funded. The project has already incurred a $1.3 million interfund loan, which would need to be covered by any new loans, Oakes said Wednesday.

The county has a couple of options of where the money could come from. It can take out another interfund loan, but that would affect other programs drastically, Oakes said. The county’s maintenance and road funds would suffer a significant reduction for approximately four years, he said.

The other option is to take out a loan — either selling bonds or a taking out a commercial loan.

“If we do sell bonds, and I’m not sure if we will, we would be using our existing revenue stream to pay for it,” Shelton said. “It wouldn’t require a vote of the people because we have the wherewithal to go out for the bond within our existing revenue stream.”

The county would restructure its existing debt to make room for the new loans, Shelton said.

“It will increase the amount of debt because we need new money,” he said.

Oakes said that if the county pursues bonds, he will request they be for $5 million so that other projects can be lumped in. The costs associated with issuing bonds would make funding smaller projects such as purchasing the Freeland fire station for the sheriff’s precinct and replacing the jail roof more feasible, he said.

Issuing bonds would also save the county money in interest compared to a commercial loan, Oakes said.

The bids came in higher than expected because the rate of construction inflation is approximately eight times what the county had budgeted, Oakes said. The architect’s estimate had a 2-percent construction index built in, but the bid came in with a 16-percent index.

“The problem with waiting to collect more money is that inflation is going up faster than the amount of money we collect,” Shelton said.

The high bids left officials looking for solutions. Among the options considered were not building the building, scaling the building back or delaying the building.

Shelton said the county is required by state law to have a juvenile detention center. Any county with a population of more than 50,000 must have one, he said. Voters approved a sales tax increase to pay for the facility.

Scaling the building back was ruled out as well, Juvenile Services Director Mike Merringer said.

“We had gone through an exercise last summer to cut costs,” he said. “It’s a pretty efficient building and there’s not a lot of places to cut.”

Oakes said he considered eliminating the mezzanine level, which would cut 10 beds from the facility. It would also result in only a $400,000 savings, he said.

“Cutting the mezzanine would reduce the life span of the building,” Merringer said.

The building will have a long life-span, he said. In 2003, the system peaked when it had nine juveniles in confinement at Skagit and Snohomish counties’ facilities.

“We’re hoping this facility will be adequate to the community as long as we need it,” Merringer said.

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

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