Pa. county to approve architects for new jail
The warden has said building a new facility is crucial to improving and expanding how the county delivers programs and services in education, addiction recovery and mental health
By Tom Lisi
LNP, Lancaster, Pa.
LANCASTER, Pa. — Six months after officials made an open call for architecture services to design a new jail to replace Lancaster County Prison, county commissioners said Tuesday they will approve their staff’s top choice for the job: Kansas City-based TranSystems.
The vote to approve a contract covering the next four years ushers in a more dynamic phase of the project, in which county officials will be reviewing physical designs for the new facility and making critical decisions about how big it will be, what services it will maintain and what it will cost to build and operate.
The contract commissioners said they will vote to approve Wednesday breaks TranSystems’ design work into two phases. The first covers the ensuing four months, from Oct. 11 to Jan. 31.
In that initial period, TranSystems will be paid $1.4 million to create “conceptual designs” for the new facility, followed by two “schematic designs” that will include cost estimates for the entire project.
That first phase will help county officials determine a budget for the project and weigh costs for different aspects of the design, county officials said at a work session Tuesday.
The second phase covers the rest of the jail project through construction over the next four years. For that period of the contract, TranSystems is due to receive 3.5% of the final cost of the project.
The board of commissioners and county staff have been careful not to place any expectations on how much the new jail would end up costing before design work begins.
They’ve argued since the beginning of the project that engineering choices in the design phase will largely determine the final price tag.
A 2007 study from L.R. Kimball, which was bought by TranSystems two years ago, estimated a new county prison would cost about $150 million to build. That plan predicted the county would need a bed capacity of about 2,100 by 2025, before county officials made changes to speed up cases in the criminal justice system. Those moves lowered the current prison’s daily population from 1,200 in 2012 to less than 800 today.
While the new prison likely will include a smaller capacity than what was predicted in 2008, construction costs have risen significantly since then. Recent inflation and pandemic-fueled supply-chain interruptions supercharged those growing costs in the last couple years.
An effort to build a new jail in Berks County was put on hold last year after commissioners balked at an estimated price tag closer to $300 million.
Three leading design teams, including TranSystems, gave presentations on their services to county commissioners in May. At the time, each of the teams said construction costs had nearly doubled in recent years, but market pressures were showing signs of easing.
The vote Wednesday concludes the work of an evaluation committee formed by the county to vet proposals submitted by four design teams.
Director of Purchasing Linda Schreiner identified the 16 committee members for the first time at the Tuesday meeting, representing eight county departments. They included Chief Clerk Larry George, Deputy Chief Clerk Amy Campbell, Solicitor Jackie Pfursich, Warden Cheryl Steberger and representatives from the prison’s inmate services department, the county IT department, prison security department, and the county budgeting department.
At the Tuesday work session, Steberger said TranSystems’ proposal to the county was comprehensive and forward-thinking.
“They push the boundaries on conventional justice planning and ... their perspective on the mental health side of it, and medical (side) is really what intrigued me,” Steberger said.
The warden has said building a new facility is crucial to improving and expanding how the county delivers programs and services in education, addiction recovery and mental health.
The committee reviewed and rated each of the proposals they received, according to officials. Throughout the process, each of the committee members independently found TranSystems to be the best choice, Schreiner said Tuesday.
TranSystems is a major civil engineering firm with national reach. After the Tuesday public meeting, Brian Endler, vice president of architecture and engineering at TranSystems, said the company’s purchase of L.R. Kimball in 2021 offered wider reach and more resources for design work in other parts of the country. But the Kimball team before that deal is largely still in place, Endler said, and remains active in Pennsylvania.
The ex-Kimball team has extensive experience with prisons over several decades in the commonwealth. Based in Cambria County, the group boasts a history of having worked in 41 counties in the commonwealth. Of those, 21 projects involved building new correctional facilities, Schreiner said.
TranSystems is also behind new designs at the Chester County Prison to prevent escapes like the one made by convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante earlier this month.
Schreiner said county officials were at work planning a third public “listening session” in which residents can ask questions and comment directly to county officials about the project. The previous two listening sessions organized by the county took place in the evening, so more residents who work during the day could attend.
The next listening session will likely take place in the next two weeks, Schreiner said.
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