MONTICELLO, NY — Four county legislators have expressed a desire to go forward with LaBella Associates to oversee design and construction of the new Sullivan County jail, which has been ordered by the New York Commission of Corrections (COC). That is the choice of legislative chairman Scott Samuelson and legislators Kathy LaBuda, Jonathan Rouis and Ira Steingart. A fifth legislator, Alan Sorensen, said he was “leaning” in that direction.
LaBella Associates had signed a contract with the county back in 2006 to design and build the new facility, but the Great Recession changed the county’s plans, and the jail was put on hold. As the economy is improving a bit, the process has been revived.
A company called Goldberg Group Architects (GGA) was contacted to see if they could bring in the project for less money, and they said they could build a facility for $40 million. LaBella Associates made a new presentation in front of the legislature recently and said the cost of their project could be pared down to $64 million. But lawmakers repeatedly said comparing the two plans was not comparing “apples to apples,” and that either company would build the jail that was dictated by the county legislature and the jail committee. In the view of the four legislators, LaBella was the more responsible party.
That was also the view of Sheriff Mike Schiff, who said that he had reservations about GGA, specifically that an estimate GGA had given him about the cost of one part of the project had been off by about 100%.
Schiff said that he had checked into the other jails that LaBella had built elsewhere in the state and that there had been no problems with any of them. He also said that he wanted to avoid the pitfalls that some other large construction projects in the county had encountered, and pointed to Sullivan West High School as one example of a project that was plagued with problems after completion, and resulted in lengthy litigation.
LaBella signed a contract with Sullivan County seven years ago for about $7 million to provide architecture and engineering services for the project. To date, the company has been paid nearly $2 million for pre-construction work. Sorensen said before he signed off on selecting LaBella he wanted to know how much of that $7 million was the final design cost, and how much is construction oversight.
Lawmaker Gene Benson said he had a concern about the construction company BBL Construction Services, which was part of the LaBella bidding team. He said an article dating to 2012 said there were a lot of problems with the company in the Hudson Valley region.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda urged her colleagues to move the process forward because she said at some point the COC will demand action, and possibly close some or all of the cells at the current county jail. This would compel the county to house inmates at facilities outside of the county at a huge cost to taxpayers.
Once the legislature makes a final selection, the design process will take another eight or nine months to complete.
Once that is complete, the project will have to be bonded, and will almost certainly mean a tax increase in excess of the Albany-mandated 2% property tax cap. Schiff suggested county officials contact Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to attempt to have the cost of the jail removed from the tax cap equation.