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Juvie jail bid awarded

Putting caution to the wind, the Board of Island County Commissioners voted to move forward with construction of a 21-bed juvenile detention center, even though funding for the project is approximately $2 million under budget.

On Monday, the commissioners voted unanimously to award the $5.3 million project to Bellingham-based Ebenal General, Inc. That bid is $740,000 more than the county’s estimate.

Island County Commissioner Bill Byrd said that the project is necessary and that putting construction off any longer would only cost the county more money. The county will probably utilize a short-term borrowing program to fund the shortfall.

“It may be painful for a short period of time, but at least we’d get the job done,” he said. “We’ve decided that it’s time to fish or cut bait.”

The county’s Public Works Department is expected to bring forth specific options for the commissioners to consider. Funds for the facility come from a 0.1 percent sales tax approved by voters.

State law requires counties with a population of more than 50,000 people have a juvenile detention facility. Island County currently transports its juvenile offenders to facilities in Snohomish and Skagit counties.

Gary Hess, the project’s lead engineer, said that delays caused by budget concerns have pushed the expected completion date back approximately 60 days. Construction should begin by the middle of February, he said. A Feb. 8 meeting will take place between Island County and Ebenal to finalize the deal.

“Shortly after that, they’ll mobilize their forces and we’ll be on our way,” Hess said.

Construction should wrap up around Spring of 2006, Hess said.

The deal includes two elements of the bid that are labeled as alternates. These add approximately $90,000 to the final cost, but are necessary additions, Hess said.

One alternate includes the construction of the front of the building, along Main Street, to comply with an agreement with the Coupeville Design Review Board, Hess said.

“We’re trying to do some improvements to the existing jail to try and get people to recognize where the entrance is,” Hess said. “We would have had to sooner or later do that to be in line with our building permit.”

The other alternate approved was the accumulation of back-up equipment for the center’s surveillance and security measures. The $50,000 worth of equipment will be kept on site in case of emergencies.

“It’s kind of the brains of the system,” Hess said. “And the price was right and it was prudent to have them.”

Byrd said that a short-term loan would be the best way to fund the facility. He said that $2 million would be able to cover the existing debt for the facility and also finish the Camano Annex. This is less than the $5 million Public Works originally proposed to finish up a laundry list of projects. That loan would have allowed for the purchase of the Main Street Market and the replacement of the roof at the Law and Justice Building.

“I’m not sure we needed to do the other things now,” Byrd said. “They don’t have the urgency that (the detention center) does.”

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

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