Dan Hust | Democrat
Larry Goldberg, head of Goldberg Group Architects, pitched his firm's shrunken version of the proposed county jail to legislators earlier this week.
Competing jail design pitched
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO January 17, 2014 Tuesday’s presentation on a competing jail design left as many questions as it answered.
Chief among them is whether legislators will choose to once again formally request proposals, restarting a process that began eight years ago with LaBella Associates, which is currently under contract with the county.
Goldberg Group Architects’ (GGA’s) Larry Goldberg indicated his Missouri-based firm is interested in gaining the design contract if it’s offered again.
But after pitching a preliminary proposal to legislators Tuesday, Goldberg left feeling uncertain.
“I’m not sure how much that approach will be welcomed,” he said of his approximately 100,000-square-foot jail design.
New request for proposals?
A new jail to replace the century-old one in Monticello has been a football tossed back and forth for decades, and despite LaBella’s near-completion of its design (along with the county’s $2 million in payments to date to LaBella), several legislators and County Treasurer Ira Cohen are interested in a new request for proposals (RFP) process.
That’s because they believe GGA has demonstrated the jail doesn’t have to cost the $72 million LaBella has estimated (not counting the $2 million the county paid for the new jail site) but could be built for the $40-$50 million GGA has calculated.
While Goldberg promised his plan doesn’t skimp on equipment or security, it lowers the cost by reducing the square footage.
“We designed a very compact facility,” he told legislators.
GGA’s current design is approximately 100,000 square feet. LaBella’s totals approximately 154,000 square feet.
GGA is also proposing steel cells instead of LaBella’s concrete. Goldberg said a typical reinforced concrete cell costs $24,000-$26,000, whereas a steel cell comes in around $17,000-$18,000.
But when Public Works Commissioner Ed McAndrew compared GGA’s tentative building cost of $345 per square foot with LaBella’s, they were almost equal.
“I think they’re pretty close,” he told the Democrat, estimating LaBella’s design to be about $2-$5 per square foot higher.
That’s not taking into account “soft” costs like finalized design plans or sitework just the basic construction of a 256-bed jail (up to 304 beds with double-bunking).
GGA was not made privy to LaBella’s plans, and Goldberg cautioned legislators that “these things are way too complex for simplistic numbers.”
He added that GGA’s design is nowhere near complete. Indeed, in a private meeting with county officials the day before, Goldberg had learned new info that prompted him to ask for a bit more time to develop his design estimates.
Legislators gave him till the end of this month.
Meanwhile, LaBella has now been invited to revise its numbers and make a similar presentation to legislators. A date has yet to be scheduled.
“It is a very difficult, very awkward process,” acknowledged Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson, “but we felt we needed to go through it.”
Who is GGA?
GGA is currently engaged in a jail design project in upstate Herkimer County. It has never designed a jail actually built in the state, but Sullivan County Treasurer Ira Cohen was impressed enough with the cost savings a Herkimer County legislator expected from GGA’s efforts, that he recommended GGA meet with Sullivan County officials.
That resulted in a $2,500 agreement with GGA to sketch out a preliminary design, which this month garnered a “you can proceed”-style response from the ultimate authority on any jail statewide: the NYS Commission of Correction. (The CoC, however, did add that “additional revisions to the design will be necessary,” to which GGA agreed.)
“I think the tone of the letter is that we’re moving in a positive direction,” GGA founder and president Larry Goldberg told legislators.
GGA is a 33-year-old company based in St. Joseph, Missouri and specializes in prison projects, having worked on more than 200 jails in 26 states, detailed Goldberg, who said he’s also a duly licensed architect in New York State.
A basic Google search of the company indicates it was fired this past July by Jackson County, Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors because of “actions that call into question the openness and competitiveness” of bidding on a new county jail there, according to various media reports.
A statement given to the press by the Board of Supervisors said, “Unfortunately, allegations that came to light after the opening of bids called into question the integrity and openness of the bid process and in this board’s opinion, gave the appearance of impropriety to the process.”
Nevertheless, the board still plans on using GGA’s jail design.
Goldberg himself was fined $5,000 this past fall for “offering architectural services prior to licensure and for soliciting services which another architect had been contracted to provide,” according to the Mississippi State Board of Architecture’s Fall 2013 Disciplinary Report.
Goldberg could not be reached at press time for comment on either matter.
Differing ideas on how to proceed
The Legislature is now tasked with making a choice: staying with the current design, having LaBella redo that design, or allowing Goldberg, LaBella and other interested firms to submit formal proposals.
Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson indicated legislators will first wait to see what both GGA and LaBella deliver in the next few weeks.
“We need to take a hard look at the alternatives,” agreed Legislator Alan Sorensen. “... I’m keeping an open mind, and I think we should all do that.”
That encouraged Monticello resident Tom Manza, who’s long advocated for cheaper alternatives, especially with the new jail site not far from his home.
“I feel like this is a step in the right direction for the county,” he said.
Still, some legislators, like Kathy LaBuda, are eager to move forward with LaBella, feeling the county has waited long enough and already spent millions to replace its aging, obsolete jail.
Others, like Cindy Gieger and Gene Benson, want other options more fully explored.
“I was assured another site was going to be looked at,” Benson said publicly, speaking of the state’s former Woodbourne Annex prison near Fallsburg, which has water and sewer service already on site.
Samuelson reiterated that legislators long ago approved a resolution siting the jail near Route 17’s Exit 104 in Monticello.
Gieger, meanwhile, is interested in having GGA fully develop its design, as she’s certain their plan will result in a substantial savings for taxpayers.
She called the current design “unaffordable.”
“It shouldn’t cost us $80 million,” she remarked. “It should be around $60 million.”
Nevertheless, she plans to introduce a resolution calling for a dedicated fund be created to pay bonding interest costs out of the monies Sullivan County is expected to receive from hosting a casino, if one is approved by the state to be located here.
Legislature Vice Chair Kitty Vetter is already calling for the start of a request-for-proposals process, a thought echoed by Treasurer Ira Cohen, who felt preparing bid specifications and inviting potential bidders is now the way to go.
“Let the Sheriff design a jail, let everyone bid on it, and then you can compare apples to apples,” he told legislators.
But LaBuda disagreed, noting that LaBella has an existing contract with the county and at the least should be afforded a chance to present its case, now that GGA has.
Sheriff Mike Schiff promised to continue looking closely at both designs, but he too noted that LaBella’s work is nearly complete, and they deserve to be included.
“We’re 80-90 percent along, ready to finish it up,” Schiff pointed out, affirming the Sheriff’s Office is just as eager to curb unnecessary costs as legislators. “... We need to sit down with LaBella and ‘shrink out’ the project.”
Several local labor union reps expressed concerns about GGA’s steel-cell construction, in that the cells might be constructed out of state and shipped to the site.
“You’re asking the people of this county to pay for this jail, but they’re not going to have an opportunity to work on this jail,” Plumbers Local 373 Business Agent Tom Gandolfini remarked.
Samuelson ultimately acknowledged there’s a lot to consider.
“This will probably be the largest capital project the county has ever done,” he admitted. “It’s a little daunting for us.”