Construction set to begin in Helena detention center expansion project

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 20:22:12-04

(HELENA) For the last several months, contractors have been at work inside Lewis and Clark County’s Law Enforcement Center in Helena. They have mostly demolished the former offices of the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s looking very, very open, but it doesn’t look much bigger than what it was,” said county Undersheriff Jason Grimmis.

Crews are partway through the long process of converting the entire building into an expanded detention center. Now, Grimmis said they are likely less than a month away from the start of actual construction.

“There’s still some demo work to be completed, they are laying out materials for the construction preparation, and subcontractors are getting lined up for the project – which would include mechanical, electrical and plumbing, masonry,” he said. “They’re all getting lined up for when they step in and when their time is on the clock.”

The project is intended to address serious overcrowding at the detention center. The center was designed to hold 80 inmates, but leaders say they currently average between 95 and 115 per day.

Voters in Lewis and Clark County approved a bond to remodel the Law Enforcement Center into an expanded detention center in 2016. The project began moving forward after they approved an operating levy for the expanded jail in 2017.

Once the project is finished, the detention center will have room for 156 inmates. Grimmis said that number could possibly be expanded further in the future.

Last month, the Lewis and Clark County Commission approved an update to Sletten Construction’s contract for the renovation project. It set out a “guaranteed minimum price” of just over $6.8 million for the demolition and construction work – meaning the contractor is responsible for finishing the work at that price or less and will cover any cost overruns.

With the costs of designing the jail, permitting and other requirements included, the entire project is expected to cost about $8.4 million.

The 2016 bond provided $6.5 million, but county leaders said costs had increased substantially since that time. They said they covered the additional costs with money from capital funds and other sources.

Construction will start first in the Law Enforcement Center’s basement, which will be converted into an “intake” area where people will be initially booked and held after being arrested. That area is set to be finished by January.

The main floor will hold inmate housing areas, visiting rooms and space for programs. It should be finished by April. After that, the inmates will be moved onto that floor.

“We’re going to have to ‘shuffle in place,’ so to speak, and move prisoners out of the second floor, so they can complete the work that’s still required on the second floor as part of the renovation,” Grimmis said.

The entire project is set to be completed by August 2020.

“Everything is moving as planned,” said Grimmis.

Grimmis said, with work picking up around the Law Enforcement Center, authorities are recommending people avoid the area unless they are visiting the detention center.

“For their safety, as well as the construction workers’ safety and the safety of everybody, and the efficiency of the renovation project, it’s best to stay out of the area unless you have business here,” he said.