With time running out to make a decision, Bell County commissioners moved forward on a $13.1 million purchase Tuesday.
The purchase, which was approved unanimously by commissioners, is for precast jail components for the Outer Loop Jail expansion.
Commissioners were urged to approve the purchase now instead of waiting due to the impending overhaul of the Alabama prison system. Alabama is expected to place an order soon for precast jail cells to construct two 4,000 bed prisons, with a combined cost of $1.3 billion.
Alabama’s order of precast cells, which was previously misattributed to Louisiana by county officials, could set the Bell County project back by at least five months if placed first.
“There are limited contractors that produce these items and there is a state that is spending a considerable amount of money in replacing their prison system,” Phil Goodwill, project manager for the county, said. “So they are going to put a big demand on these companies that produce these items. We need to get in line to make sure our order is ahead of them and we can meet the production schedule.”
Goodwill said the county needs the precast cells and walls at the construction site by the middle of September in order to stay on schedule.
County officials said they would ordinarily wait until they had a guaranteed maximum price for the project, in which the contractor commits to building the project for that amount or below, before ordering the materials.
Fort Worth-based Sedalco Construction Services is contracted for the expansion of the project taking place on county-owned land at 1201 Huey Road in Belton. Contractors for the company expect the guaranteed maximum price for the project to be presented in about 17 weeks.
If commissioners, due to the cost of the project, do not approve the guaranteed maximum price, it could cost the county.
Goodwill said there is a limit of how many cells can be cut from the project after previous cuts by commissioners to reduce the expected price of the expansion.
“These precast cells are structural members,” Goodwill said. “And, if we reduce any more on this thing, it is going to require some reengineering.”
The cost to cancel or alter the county’s order could reach as high as $1.8 million, Goodwill said.
This cost can be reduced, Goodwill said, by taking some of the materials purchased for these cells and reusing them in the county’s current facilities. This reuse of materials brings the county’s cost down to $800,000.
Jared Hicks, executive vice president for Sedalco, said that even if the order is placed now with the company making the cells, the casting process will not begin for a while.
“By the time we present the actual guaranteed maximum price, they will not have started casting,” Hicks said. “They will not start casting until July under the current schedule. So your risk is all the components … that are the purchase products that go into those (such as) the plumbing fixtures, the bunks and the doors.”
While county officials are worried about the final cost of the project, Goodwill said the cost of purchasing the precast cells was about $280,000 cheaper than originally estimated.
Commissioner Bill Schumann pointed out that money for the purchase of these cells is coming out of the $129 million approved for the jail expansion by issuing certificates of obligation.
“I think it is important to realize that whatever we spend on this is part of the original bond we committed to for the jail construction,” Schumann said. “It is not over and above what we have approved to spend.”
County Judge David Blackburn said moving forward on purchasing the precast materials was worth the risk due to the anticipated costs of waiting.
“It sounds like a very minimal risk from the county’s perspective,” Blackburn said. “In addition to that, the forecast for the cost of materials as well as the cost of delaying the project several months at minimum could be a higher risk than perusing these materials.”