jail

With the skyrocketing costs of building materials, constructing the new Jackson County Jail may cost $6.87 million.

The Jackson County Board of Supervisors received that updated cost estimate from John Hansen of Midwest Construction Consultants during a work session last week before approving the final floor plans for the facility during a special meeting.

Hansen was hired to help design the new jail, which will be built on the corner of East Maple Street and Jacobsen Drive in Maquoketa. The facility will have 30 beds with room for future expansion as well as at least eight inmate separation classifications as set forth by federal law (the current jail is rated to hold 11 inmates with basically no classifications). It also will include minimal office space, a training/multipurpose space, and more.

Voters last March approved the sale of $5.9 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the new jail and law enforcement center, which at that time was estimated to cost $6.2 million. The county would pay for the remaining $300,000 from its capital improvement fund, which pays for items such as building improvements.

Based on current market conditions, construction costs spiked upwards of about $6.87 million “on the high end,” Hansen said.

The increased demand for materials such as steel as well as setbacks in the supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic are to blame, Hansen told the supervisors.

He noted that volatility in the market may level out this fall, which is when the project will go to bid, something Supervisor Mike Steines would like to see.

“I guess I would hope that material levels would level out,” he said.

“You’re bidding at a good time of year,” Hansen replied, noting that fall bidding generally attracts competitive bids as contractors line up their projects for the following year.

He added that other area building projects, such as Together We Build’s new ag learning hub at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, might garner competitive bids as well as those contractors would already be in town.

“I guarantee the bids are not coming in under $5.9 million,” Hansen told the supervisors and law enforcement officials during the work session.

Willey noted that the county has $300,000 on hand through the capital improvement fund and plans to add more to it.

The county is consulting with its bonding attorney, Ahlers & Cooney in Des Moines, about whether to sell bonds now when interest rates are low and invest some of the loan money to generate more dollars for the jail project or wait until after the bids come in this fall. No final decision has been made.

It is believed that the jail bonds will be the first such debt incurred by the county, officials have said while going through the bonding process.

The supervisors plan to release jail construction documents for bidding this November and break ground in March or April 2022.

The road here

The county has failed jail inspection for at least seven years and spent about four years planning, meeting, taking jail tours and waging campaigns to inform the public about the need for a new facility.

The current jail, which is about 50 years old, failed multiple state jail inspections over the years. Inspections cited a lack of separation classifications, visitation issues, odors, cramped spaces, poor lighting, lack of handicapped accessibility, and other overall safety and security issues for staff and inmates.

A volunteer jail advisory committee comprised of law enforcement officials and the public met and proposed to build a $6.9 million, 36-bed jail on the same property now occupied by Citizens State Bank. An August 2018 bond referendum garnered 52.5% approval, short of the 60% needed.

The committee regrouped, hired a new architect and came up with a jail expandable to 74 beds at a cost of $6.5 million. It garnered 57.5% approval in August 2019 but still fell short.

The advisory group disbanded, leaving the future of the jail in the hands of the supervisors. They focused on a smaller but expandable jail at a different location and paid $75,000 for the new site.

With no public gatherings due to the pandemic, the supervisors ordered an informative brochure be mailed to all Jackson County residents in advance of the third special bond referendum election.

The third time was the charm. On March 2, 71.3% of Jackson County voters approved the third attempt at a jail bond referendum, allowing the county to incur $5.9 million in bond debt for the jail. Only 21.9% of eligible voters turned out in last week’s election.

Bond approval means a Jackson County homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 will see a property tax increase of about $17.42 per year.