Justice Center project gets $1 million break | VailDaily.com

Justice Center project gets $1 million break

Melanie Wong
Vail CO, Colorado

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EAGLE COUNTY ” The county is close to approving the financing to expand the Justice Center, but not quite yet.

Commissioners delayed approving the financing for the project and granting the construction contracts to FCI Constructors until next week.

They said they had additional questions on the financing procedure before approving the agreement.

The project will be discussed in more detail and probably will be approved next Tuesday. That will be a good time for people wanting to give input or learn more about the project to come, Commissioner Peter Runyon said.

The improvements will be funded through a lease-purchase agreement, a way of financing without having to get bonds or add taxes. Instead, the county will pay for the project out of existing revenues.

The Royal Bank of Canada will issue certificates of participation, effectively leasing the building to the county until the costs are paid off.

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The cost of the 35,000-square-foot expansion of the jail, sheriff’s offices, courtrooms and district attorney’s office, will cost about $38 million after interest over 20 years, said County Finance Director John Lewis.

The expansion will add room for another 32 to 36 inmates, another courtroom, judges chambers, a jury room, as well as additional office space.

While some have criticized the high cost of the project, the county said it will now be saving almost $1 million in interest and insurance.

That’s because Eagle County received upgraded credit ratings from rating companies Moody and Standard and Poor, meaning the county will get lower interest rates and will not have to buy insurance for the certificates of participation.

The county’s ratings were some of the highest received by municipalities and governments, County Attorney Bryan Treu said.

The ratings are based on the overall health of the county’s finances and the type of project.

“They look at the diversity of the county’s economic base, property foreclosures, our track record of outstanding debt ” and the county has no general obligation debt,” Treu said. “Basically our debt is down and revenues are up in Eagle County ” we’re doing fine.”

The county also received the better rating because the county is mandated by the state to provide jail and sheriff’s office services, Lewis said.

But Republican Commissioner Candidate Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner who oversaw the completion of the existing Justice Center, said he doesn’t think the county is doing the expansion in a cost-effective or transparent way.

He said he’s spoken with building company General Steel and local architects who say the expansion project could be built for as low as $12 million. He also criticized the county for hiring the same architecture firm, Riley and Johnson, to do the study that recommended expansion for the Justice Center and do the design.

“That’s a conflict of interest,” he said. “They could have gone out to anybody to get a better price.”

However, county officials defended the process, saying they did look for the best deal.

“We did talk to General Steel, and they weren’t interested in giving a bid on the process,” Treu said. “They only do stand alone jails, not additions to existing facilities like this.”

Also, building a jail requires specialized construction that costs more than normal building, said Runyon, who is running against Gustafson for re-election.

“Someone saying they can come up with a cheaper solution is shooting from the hip,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone would have the expertise to know that.”

He fired back that the original building was not designed to make expansion easy, meaning the current expansion will require significant rearranging of the building.

“We could have done it for cheaper, if it had been properly designed in the first place,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.