Construction cost increases hit new jail project

Oct 4, 2021

October 4, 2021 — Projected construction costs for a new jail building have gone up more than 14% in the last three years, an unprecedented increase driven by steel tariffs, supply chain delays and shortages of skilled labor. In spite of several efforts to reduce costs, the architect on the project told the Board of Supervisors last week that there is a budget shortfall of $3.6 million. 

In  2017, the county received $25 million from the state to build a new jail designed to meet the mental health needs of inmates. Originally, the county planned to contribute a little over a million dollars, but that amount climbed to about $2.8 million as delays piled up and costs increased. The project is currently expected to cost $31.1 million.

Deputy CEO Steve Dunnicliff reported that disasters ranging from global to bureaucratic are playing out in the construction project that’s still about a year from breaking ground, “starting with rebuilding  thousands of houses lost to wildfires, then tariffs on construction material and supply chain impacts due to the ongoing global pandemic,” he noted. “Additionally,  the state’s project approval was extended due to a change in their process.”

Eric Fadness, an architect with Nacht and Lewis, which is designing the jail, said the 14.5% increase in projected construction costs since June of 2019 is  based on the California Construction Cost increase, which historically has increased each year at an average of 3.5% “So an increase of 14.5% “is unprecedented,” he concluded. “It’s sort of significant of the time we’re in.” Soft costs, like fees, testing, and equipment, have increased from $5.8 million in June of 2019 to about $6.4 million.

Supervisor Ted Williams implied that he expects costs to keep rising. “Would you be as surprised as I would be if we could pull it off for thirty-one?” he asked Fadness, who concurred that, “I guess I would be at this point.” He recommended that the board set aside $4 million to meet cost increases that could keep accumulating in the future.

CEO Carmel Angelo pointed out that the county could tap the reserve account, “and certainly any fund balance that we may have would be applicable, as well...I do not think that there is any additional grant money...my guess is that this would be all county money,” she reported.

Supervisor Dan Gjerde noted that lumber costs have fluctuated, and wondered if that might indicate that overall construction costs could go down in the next year. He didn’t seem to find the shortfall insurmountable, noting that in previous years the county has had significant close-out surplus funds. “I don’t know if that’s going to be the case this year,” he acknowledged, “with the budget being closed out last year, but if that’s the case, maybe another million dollars here, another two million there, and next thing you know, you have four million dollars.”

The current timeline for the project is to award a construction contract by August of next year, followed by a notice to proceed by the end of September. Fadness said he expects construction to be finished by spring of 2024 and for inmates to move in by early summer.

Williams made a motion to accept the presentation, adding that “inherently in that is to ask staff to find four million dollars from somewhere.”

In another unanimous vote, the board approved a request by Dr. Jenine Miller, the head of behavioral health, to use $240 thousand dollars per year for the next four years  from the Measure B fund for a crisis respite center in Fort Bragg. Miller said the facility would likely be on the campus of the coast hospital and have four to six beds, managed by Redwood Community Services. The proposal received support from the Fort Bragg City Council, the chief of police, and the Measure B committee, which passed the request along to the board.

Miller also reported that construction on the crisis residential treatment center in Ukiah is expected to be complete by November. She added that a feasibility study on whether a psychiatric health facility should be located at a county-owned building on Whitmore Lane in Ukiah or be built from scratch should come before the board in January.

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