A report that the bids for the new jail came in $2 million under estimates had Yellowstone County Commissioners smiling last week. The project could hardly be turning out better, said Commissioner John Ostlund.

James Matteson, the county’s purchasing agent, seemed especially pleased to present a commitment of $11,363,675 in total costs from the construction manager, Swanke Enterprises, to be approved by the commissioners at their next public meeting.

The total includes all costs for building the expansion of the Yellowstone County Detention Facility which will add 148 beds, and will expand kitchen and laundry services. Not included in the commitment are soft costs for such things as furniture, equipment, appliances, etc. for which the construction manager is not responsible. Those things are estimated to cost $3,589,929, bringing the total for the new addition to $14,953,604.

The project had been estimated to cost over $17 million.

Shane Swandal of Hulteng, Inc., the county’s representative on the project, reported that 100 percent of the bids have been let and the bids have been very competitive, much to the project’s benefit.

Timing for soliciting bids has been perfect, agreed commissioners, who expressed their satisfaction with having decided to use a construction manager to administer the project. Scott Chartier and Kevin Hintt of Dick Anderson Construction made that recommendation to the commissioners several months ago as the most efficient means of building a public project.  Dick Anderson Construction was one of several companies that applied for the position.

As the construction manager, Swank Enterprises guarantees the price and assumes the risk of having to pay the difference if the project exceeds the price.

County Director of Finance Kevan Bryan said that the savings means that the county will only have to dip into capital reserves $1.1 million, as opposed to a projected dip of $2.3 million. It may be less than that, he said, but “I cannot commit to anything lower at this point…but that is still slightly less than half of original projections…still positive news.”

The savings will be sorely needed as the county turns to the challenge of building new space to accommodate the addition of two new district court judges, noted the commissioners. Ostlund said that they plan to keep to a minimum spending the savings on any extras, in order to have the funds for new office space for the judges which were approved by the recent state legislature. The legislature did not approve any funding for the county to help provide additional court and office space.

“Anything added on will have to be absolutely necessary,” said Ostlund, “because of other budget demands.”

Bryan explained that there remains another $2 million that has been set aside to address the updating and refurbishing needs for the old section of the jail. Some of those needs will be addressed as the new addition is built and will be added as change orders as construction progresses.

Construction of the jail is going smoothly and has not been hampered by a very rainy April. Foundation footings are in and they will start pouring slabs for walls this week. Connections to the main water and sewer lines are complete.

Also going well, said commissioners, is the auxiliary project of developing a parking lot across the street – King Avenue East – from the jail. The county, unexpectedly, had the opportunity to acquire the property last year, and acted to do so in anticipation of future needs. The house on the property has been razed and the sub-grade has been leveled at costs much less than anticipated. The county will look at using millings to pave it at some point in the near future. The Sheriff may also build a storage unit on the property.

Voters approved a measure last June that allowed the County to borrow up to $9.7 million on the new addition, with county officials to pay the balance of $7.8 million from county funds. An over-crowded jail has been a long-standing problem for the county. The jail was built over 30 years ago for a capacity of 286, but on a regular basis its population exceeds 500 inmates.

The new addition, which was designed by Schutz Foss Design, adds 26,433 square feet to the facility.