After more than a decade, plans for much-needed improvements to the county jail are once again in the works.
At a recent Valencia County Commission meeting, county staff updated commissioners on the project.
Jeremias Silva, the county’s grant manager, said the anticipated cost of the 92-bed expansion on the north side of the Valencia County Detention Center was $6.7 million, just under the $7 million budgeted out of the American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the county.
“One thing discussed with (the architects designing the expansion) is none of us have a crystal ball. Will that (price) be true when it’s time to bid? Will the contractor be concerned with our budget? Not necessarily,” Silva said.
The budget for the project is high, he added, in an attempt to account for future inflation, and the county is also using existing equipment and components to hopefully offset the costs. The prefabricated cells the county purchased several years ago in anticipation of an expansion that didn’t happen will be used.
“We are hoping we can have a local vendor rehab the cells, which will save significant costs instead of sending them somewhere,” Silva said.
The design for the expansion is 80 to 90 percent complete, he said, and the county is working to get information about its existing equipment to the designers to lower the cost.
William Rutherford, with Clemons, Rutherford and Associates, the Florida-based architectural firm doing the design, said they were seeing inflation rates of 1.25 percent a month in their area.
“We are hoping we can hold this here; we have the cells, which are a savings,” Rutherford said.
The original design for the expansion was for 104 beds, said VCDC warden Randy Gutierrez, but rising costs meant downsizing.
“This is the third time we’ve tried to expand, so I hope it gets up and going,” Gutierrez said. “This will let us mitigate COVID. We can close the female unit and move them to the new side. We can close the temporary dorm, and this will give us the ability to classify (inmates) properly.”
The women’s unit for the jail was built in 1950. Previous commissioners have pushed to have that section closed due to its dilapidated condition, but to date that hasn’t been accomplished.
Some inmates are housed at other facilities because VCDC doesn’t have restrictive housing. The expansion will allow some of them to be brought back to Valencia County, the warden said.
“We have $400,000 budgeted for out-of-county housing. It’s about $200 a day, not including medical, for out-of-county inmates,” he said.
Some inmates, such as those with certain gang affiliations and those in protective custody, won’t be able to be housed locally, regardless of the size of the facility, noted count attorney Dave Pato.
Commissioner David Hyder asked what would happen with the project if, after it was put out to bid for construction, it was over budget.
Gutierrez said the square footage would have to be reduced, most likely by eliminating one of two planned recreation yards, and plans for a full medical triage area would be shelved.
“We would still have the bed space,” he said.
Silva said there are additional ARPA funds — about $500,000 — which could be allocated to the project. The federal funds have to be obligated to a project by 2024 and spent by 2026.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.