Initial price tag for new county jail put at $42.5M

LACONIA — The committee planning the community corrections facility to replace the Belknap County Jail learned yesterday that Ricci Greene Associates of New York, the consultants engaged to design the project, have indicated the building will cost approximately $42.5-million.
The firm has yet to present its final report, but is expected to do so shortly.
County Administrator Deb Shackett told the committee that the construction costs are estimated at $37-million. Soft costs — fees for architectural, engineering and legal services, fixtures and fittings and moving expenses — along with the cost of demolishing the existing jail, are projected to represent about 15-percent of construction costs, or $5.5-million. She said that Ricci Greene based its estimates on the cost of the county correctional facilities in Strafford, Cheshire and Merrimack counties, which were built most recently in New Hampshire
In addition, Shackett said that Ricci Greene Associates will report that a new facility will require a "significant" increase in correctional personnel. She explained that Ricci Greene Associates, like David Bennett Consulting of Park City Utah earlier, found staffing at the existing jail inadequate and projected that the personnel required to operate a new facility would exceed appropriate staffing levels of the old one.
Acknowledging a sense of "sticker shock," the committee turned to considering how to trim the cost of the project.
"If it is not feasible, what are the alternatives?" Shackett asked.
Ed Philpot, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, and Commissioner John Thomas wondered if any part of the existing jail could be incorporated into a new facility. "Is there some combination of new construction and the existing structure that would work? asked Philpot while Thomas suggested building new housing for inmates and using the existing jail for rehabilitative programming.
Architect Gary Goudreau reminded the committee that the latest addition to the jail, built in 1988, would require extensive structural repairs as well as new electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems and questioned whether the investment would be cost effective. Philpot acknowledged that those who have assessed the existing building have concluded it would not be cost effective to renovate it.
"We need a new jail," Commissioner Steve Nedeau said flatly. "If we don't do anything, all the costs will increase and we'll still have the liabilities of the old jail. This has been a problem we've had for many, many years."
Noting that the committee has not received the report from Ricci Greene Associates, Goudreau recommended carefully reviewing it with an eye to distinguishing "needs from wants" and agreeing on "the minimum" necessary.
Earlier this month Ricci Greene Associates projected that a new facility would require 180 beds, plus five for inmates requiring medical care. Inmates would be profiled according to some 13 criteria, including gender, risk, offense, and special needs, and separated appropriately.
A third of the beds, divided between 44 for men and 16 for women, would be dedicated to the community corrections program, for inmates awaiting trial, on work release or electronic monitoring and undergoing intensive treatment. The other 120 beds, 88 for men and 32 for women, would be allotted to maximum, medium, and minimum security inmates as well as those with special needs. A handful of these beds would also be designated for receiving and discharge. The beds would be divided between five housing units, two for men — one with 36 beds and another with 52 beds — and one for women.
Recalling that the condition of the jail reflected that corners were cut to spare costs when it was expanded in 1988, Philpot remarked "my fear is not coming out with a number that is too big. It's coming out with a number that is too small." He said he did not want future county commissioners to be saddled with the challenge and dilemma facing the current commission.
Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the recently elected chairman of the Belknap County Convention, which must approve financing for the project, said that she was not surprised by the estimate. She said that all alternatives would have to be considered, including the possibility of "outsourcing" inmates to other correctional facilities in the state.