Lewis & Clark County Commission gets first monthly update on jail renovation

Posted at 7:21 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 21:22:15-05

HELENA – The Lewis and Clark County Commission got an update Thursday morning on the progress of major renovations at the county detention center.

County voters approved a bond in 2016 to address jail overcrowding by converting the entire Law Enforcement Center into jail space. That project is moving forward, now that the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office have moved out of the building and into their new location on Fuller Avenue.

The first step of the project will be demolishing the vacated areas in the Law Enforcement Center so they can be rebuilt. Audra Zacherl, the county’s assistant director of public works, told commissioners that contractors have already begun bringing their equipment into the Law Enforcement Center. Demolition work could start within about two weeks and continue through May.

This will be the first of a series of monthly updates that will be made at commission meetings through the project’s scheduled completion in spring 2020.

“The commission wants to keep the public informed of our progress on the project,” said Zacherl. “The dust is going to start flying here pretty soon.”

The renovation will nearly double the detention center’s capacity, to more than 150 beds. The entire project is expected to cost $8.3 million – higher than the $6.5 million the 2016 bond provided. County leaders say that increase is partially because prices went up after that time. The project did not move forward immediately because voters rejected an accompanying levy to pay for operating the expanded detention center. That levy later passed in 2017.

Commissioner Susan Good Geise said the county will not be asking the public for additional funding. Instead, leaders say they were able to make up the difference by shifting some planned spending on other projects in the building and by selling the bonds for more than initially anticipated.

“We have moved forward on this in a very fiscally prudent and responsible way, and have looked in every nook and cranny to find revenue that is not going to come specifically from our property tax payers,” said Geise.

Commissioner Jim McCormick said, despite the higher price for remodeling the jail, the project would still be only around a quarter of the $42 million that had been proposed to build a new detention center in 2015. Voters rejected a bond issue to pay for that project.

During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners also approved an $832,290 contract with Sletten Construction. It will pay for the demolition, along with some administrative costs for the project. There will be a separate contract for the construction work.