Lancaster County is one step closer to moving ahead with the building of the county’s new prison, a multi-million-dollar project county commissioners have labeled as the biggest local public building project ever.
County commissioners approved a plan last week to solicit bids from engineers and architects regarding the design of the new prison to be built on a 78-acre farm in Lancaster Township, just south of Lancaster City.
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said finding an architect and engineer who can design the project in a clear and cost-effective manner will be a key piece in the next step of the building process. No exact dollar amount has yet been linked to the project, but previous estimates have put the prison cost at around $163 million.
“We’ve said this before, this is likely the largest project in Lancaster County history, and it’s a very important project for the community,” D’Agostino said. “And having the right people involved in this project is of utmost importance.”
Bid Solicitation Process
County director of purchasing Linda Schreiner provided a timeline at the March 1 commissioner’s meeting for the hiring of a design team over the next few months. The process begins with a request for proposals, which is set to be released by the county on March 9.
Schreiner said all architects, engineers and design firms who are interested in submitting proposals have until April 12 to file plans. Anyone looking to participate in the project must also attend a public meeting on March 22 at the Lancaster County Government Center where county officials will answer questions about the project request.
“We anticipate both local and national firms will partner for this project due to the size,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner said an eight-person evaluation committee made up of county officials, including the chief clerk, solicitor, prison warden and prison services department, will review all submitted bids and rank them from top to bottom. Committee members will then refer the top three bids to the commissioners for consideration.
A public presentation of the top three proposals is anticipated to take place at the May 23 commissioners meeting. Schreiner said after receiving feedback from the commissioners and the public, the evaluation committee will make a final recommendation possibly by early July.
Lancaster County Director of General Services Bob Devonshire said the prison project has officially moved into the beginning of the next phase as the project advisory committee has completed the analysis of the prison study and where the project needs to go to fit the needs of the county.
“This will help bring all those pieces together and start to paint that picture of what the new facility will potentially look like,” Devonshire said. “So, a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re ready to tackle it, and I know the team will do a good job.”
Ed Whatley, vice president of CGL, the Miami-based project manager hired by the county last July, said he wanted to compliment the preliminary work done by Schreiner and the advisory committee on the project. Whatley called the new prison a “big, challenging, complicated project,” but he said Schreiner has “run a very tight ship” so far.
“Getting a good architect does not necessarily guarantee a successful project,” Whatley said. “But getting the wrong architect normally guarantees that it will be a very challenging project. So, we appreciate the process that Linda has lined out and look forward to working with the county to get the right architect for this project.”
Before officially voting on the resolution to issue the request for proposal, each commissioner spoke about the project and what it means to the county.
Commissioner Josh Parsons said the county and the team working on the project are continuing to move ahead “carefully, deliberately seeking comment from all stakeholders” while also seeking comments and engagement from the public on the new prison.
“You don’t want to ever move so fast that you move into execution and you haven’t done the planning very thoroughly, especially in a very big project like this,” Parsons said.
Parsons also spoke about the legacy of the current and long-lasting county prison, which was originally built on East King Street in the 1850s and has seen many renovations. He said he would like to see that the new prison serve the community for “maybe the next 100 years.”
“The current facility lasted far longer than that, so we’re hopeful that the next facility will last a long, long time and be a good facility that helps guarantee the public safety here in Lancaster County,” Parsons said.
Commissioner John Trescot said his business background has involved him in several “very large projects,” but those projects were typically conducted by individuals with prior experience handing the complexities of similar types of building situations. Trescot said he has been “very impressed” by Schreiner and Devonshire’s management of the prison project despite lacking a background in handling large public projects.
“To my experience, this project has followed a very good sequence of events, sequence of checks and balances, asking questions, getting information,” Trescot said. “And we’re now moving into what will be a design phase where we’ll be able to really start evaluating what we’re going to build.”
D’Agostino said the commissioners have had a “good working relationship” so far with the project team members, interested stakeholders and the public. He said everyone involved has been very engaged in the process, asking the right questions to make sure the project fits the needs of the community.
“We’re looking to add another key member to the team to help us get to the point where we have something to construct, something that we can all look back on and say, ‘This was the best project that we could get given the situation that we find ourselves in at this point in our history,’” D’Agostino said.