New county jail could exceed initial budget

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 9, 2006

Butler County officials received a case of &#8220sticker shock” when bid totals on the new county jail came in at nearly $6 million - almost $2 million more than originally budgeted for the project.

Lack of competition among bidders and a significant increase in material prices have driven up costs, according to Bryan Moore, of Martin and Cobey Construction Company, Inc., on-site construction managers for the project.

The county has budgeted between $3.1 million and $4 million for the county jail, which includes $2.78 million in bonded funds.

The commission will reject all bids at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, said Chairman Jesse McWilliams.

&#8220We're going to reject these bids and see if we can get it down to a more manageable price,” he said.

Moore said he spent weeks wooing prospective contractors and securing their interest in the project only to have many of them not submit bid packages. Also, building a jail is a long process, he said, noting that some masonry contractors refuse to bid on jails because of the amount of work involved.

Officials estimate it could take anywhere from 16 to 18 months to complete the new jail.

&#8220We have to get more competition involved in the bidding,” he said. &#8220I can't promise you $4 million but we will work to get it to a reasonable price.”

Moore said likely modifications would have to be made to the original design plans. He referred to the modification changes as building a &#8220Ford versus a Cadillac.”

&#8220I can deliver a code-required jail for $5 million with some luck,” he said.

The reason, said Moore, is that material has become more expensive. Copper prices have climbed to market highs and electrical wiring for the jail could cost as much as $39 per square foot. That's up from $17 per square foot a few years ago, said Moore.

Contractors are also able to receive inside information - of sorts - from their suppliers.

&#8220Suppliers let their contractors know if they're the only ones bidding on a project,” said Moore. &#8220Then they're free to jack up the price.”

Moore said he encourages local contractors to become more involved when bids are re-advertised.

The county began saving court cost fees in 2000 for construction of the new jail. With $1.6 million saved, the commission bonded an additional $2.78 million in January to cover construction costs.