by ZACH KAYSER
Winona County will have to pay about $2.6 million extra for a new jail, due to rising materials cost — the discussion of which led to some sticker shock Tuesday during a County Board meeting. The entire jail, ancillary costs included, will be more than $28 million, up from a previous estimate of $25.6 million.
Before voting 3-2 to approve final plans and let the project out for bids by potential subcontractors, the County Board listened to a presentation by representatives from architects Klein McCarthy and general contractor Market & Johnson.
Kasey Lemke, Market & Johnson’s director of preconstruction, said the added materials cost for the project was part of a national trend outside of the county’s control, leading to higher prices for wood and steel. “Don’t quote me on it, but it seems like [steel] has been going up at almost a rate of almost 10 percent a month …” he said.
The notes for multiple line items in the new project budget cite the bullish steel market as the reason for higher numbers.
According to revised cost estimates, the total construction and design cost for the new jail is now $27,346,427. Lemke said the cost estimate was not the final price tag for the project, but simply an updated snapshot of projected costs.
County Board chair Marcia Ward asked Lemke what could be cut from the budget in order to have the project come in at the former price estimate.
Lemke was incredulous. “To eliminate $2 million?” he asked rhetorically.
Lemke responded by saying the project design was mostly “needs”, and what things could theoretically be cut would barely make a difference.
Ward told the Post she would support a half-cent sales tax to fund the new jail. “Landowners and business owners … are receptive to that idea, versus just property [taxes] paying for it,” she said.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) deadline for completing the jail is Sept. 30. County officials have consistently said that the DOC will grant them an extension if they show a good-faith effort to build the jail. Assistant County Administrator Maureen Holte confirmed Monday that the county does not have any written agreement to that effect, however. The county plans to issue bonds to fully finance the project this fall, she said.
Jail Administrator Steve Buswellsaid at the meeting that he had been assured by Chris Thoma, a senior inspector with the DOC, that the agency would grant an extension as long as the county took steps to build the new jail.
The latest construction timeline provided by jail developers indicated that building will begin in October and conclude February of 2023.
A battle of honor and humanity
During the public comment period which opened the meeting, a number of people aligned with Community Not Cages called in to oppose the jail on the grounds it was inherently unjust and immoral.
Scott Makstenieks said the county’s goal of building the best jail possible was an oxymoron since jails were categorically dehumanizing. “The fundamental premise that this board should adopt, finally, is ‘What is the least jail we can have?’” he said. “Hopefully someday that will mean no jail.”
County Board member Marie Kovecsi later referenced Maksteniek’s comments when she said the work of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on inmate diversion would one day lead to his goal of as little incarceration as possible. “I think we’re headed in that direction,” she said.
In voting against seeking bids, County Board members Steve Jacob and Marcia Ward said the proposed design was more than the county truly needed. “I understand the need for some kind of facility, but I don’t want this kind of facility and putting that burden on the taxpayers,” Ward said.