Penobscot County commissioners have chosen a Bangor architectural and engineering firm to design a new jail for the county. But in the process of choosing WBRC Architects and Engineers, the county has again changed the cost and scope of its plans for a replacement of the current aging and overcrowded jail on Hammond Street.
County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to pay WBRC $267,420 to design what is now expected to be a 250-bed, stand-alone jail estimated to cost $44.8 million — less than two months after commissioners sought bids from firms to design a 300-bed, $65 million jail. Commissioners plan to present a bond package to voters to pay for construction at the June 2020 primary election.
While county commissioners had previously decided on a 300-bed jail to be built in the parking lot behind the current Penobscot County Jail, the latest working plan is for 250 beds at a location that has yet to be decided.
The new jail could still go in the parking lot behind Penobscot County Jail, as originally planned when the county issued a request for bids from design firms, or it could go on the lot of the former YMCA building, up the hill on Hammond Street from the current jail, that the county bought in 2017 with the idea of using it to ease overcrowding at the county jail.
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It was unclear Tuesday whether the YMCA lot is large enough for the proposed structure or if the county would have to buy additional property.
By endorsing a 250-bed jail, commissioners rejected the recommendations of an ad hoc committee, along with Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, whose members said the county needed a 300-bed facility to be able to improve medical services for inmates, including substance use disorder treatment, and to offer a wider variety of educational programs.
WBRC worked with that committee on a $75,000 preliminary study about the need for a new correctional facility that led to the recommendation of a 300-bed facility.
While they supported a 300-bed facility in the past, commissioners have also consistently expressed concerns about the cost.
“We saw the significant cost of a 300-bed facility and also heard concerns in meetings with the architects about the complexity of building on the [parking lot] hill and saw we could save the taxpayers millions,” Peter Baldacci, chairman of the county commission, said following Tuesday’s vote.