Cass County approves construction plan that includes county jail expansion – InForum

FARGO — Cass County Commissioners on Monday, July 18, unanimously approved a draft plan to move forward with construction projects estimated at $50 million beginning in 2023.

The biggest project would be an expansion of the Cass County Jail, a proposal worth between $34 million and $39 million. The commissioners said the majority of the money would come from the approximately $34 million in federal COVID relief funds.

Plans also include their share of a new 911 dispatch center, a renovation of the highway department building, storage buildings for law enforcement and election materials, and renovation projects in the annex of the courthouse and tax equalization office.

The rest of the projects would be paid for with the county’s construction fund, which is expected to total $14 million next year.

Commissioner Chad Peterson said they could do all the projects without having to issue bonds.

“It’s remarkable,” he said, noting that it would reduce the overall cost.

The commissioners also unanimously approved the search for proposals for the architectural and urban planning works necessary for each project from this autumn, with possible openings of offers in January.

Commissioners listened to a 45-minute Jail Expansion presentation that analyzed the need for more jail cells due to the county’s growing population. The presentation presented two design options for the project.

Scott Fettig of Klein McCarthy Architects of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, which specializes in prison projects, said he hired nationally renowned consultant Bill Garnos to estimate the need for prison beds.

The expansion, with an unlikely completion date before 2025, would include a two-story addition that would add 96 cells.

Fettig said the 48 cells on the first floor would be bunk cells for inmates with mental health, discipline or necessary isolation issues. The second floor would also have 48 cells, but could easily be converted into twin bunk units if needed.

The current facility, built in 2002 with 248 inmate beds, was expanded by 100 beds in 2008 to reach the current total capacity of 348 male and female beds.

Fettig said the county’s building committee rejected two other options that would have required two single-level wings or additions due to concerns about the additional prison staff needed.

The two options presented Monday, on which the commissioners have not decided, are for an expansion estimated at $35.7 or $38.9 million. The more expensive option would simply add more space to the addition, to go along with a more secure maintenance area.

Estimates also include inflation costs as well as “soft costs” such as architectural and engineering work.

The additional beds could be enough, according to estimates, to last another 13 to 16 years in the county after its completion in 2025.

Currently, there are about 294 inmates, though 16 are on a community supervision program and another 12 in other regional jails, Sheriff Jesse Jahner said.

Fettig said the number of detainees over the past year has increased by about 4% despite the dramatic drop in the pandemic.

Estimates indicate that 444 beds would be needed in 2034, compared to a current capacity of 348, and nearly 500 berths in 2041.

Peterson said he didn’t know ‘why we would delay’ the project, calling the need ‘one of the necessities of life’, urging design and engineering to begin this fall so that tenders can start early next year.

Peterson added that the new 911 dispatch center is also urgently needed. The county would set aside $5 million of the construction fund over each of the next two years for its share of the project with Moorhead and Clay County. A committee overseeing the center has been working on securing a site and plans for this facility.

Other estimated costs are $2.98 million for the Highway Service Renovation, $2 million for the Election Security Building, $500,000 for the Law Enforcement Storage Building, $400,000 for renovations to the courthouse annex and $10,000 for renovations to the tax equalization office.

Both Peterson and Commissioner Mary Scherling saw an opportunity to cut some costs as plans moved forward.

Commission Chairman Rick Steen said that as long as the county has the funding available next year, without having to commit, it should continue with the work.

Jennifer C. Burleigh