At $28M, county jail bids on target

Market & Johnson Project Manager Tyler Schulz opened bids for the Winona County Jail project last Thursday. Rising material prices sent cost estimates up last month, but the bids came in slightly lower than expected.



The bids are in, and the Winona County Jail project is now projected to cost $27.8 million, over $400,000 less than the most recent estimate, county officials said.

The new jail’s estimated price tag has steadily risen, from an early estimate of $22 million in 2019 to $25 million last fall, and $26 million this spring. Last month, a detailed estimate pegged the expense at over $28 million, including a $2.6-million price hike due to the rising costs of steel, lumber, and other materials. With global supply chains wobbling, county officials were wary of more unhappy surprises when they sat down to unseal contractors’ bids last Thursday. Just before opening the bids, Market & Johnson Project Manager Tyler Schulz said the all-in cost might very well reach $30 million.

Instead, county officials could breathe a sigh of relief, as the bids — on the whole — came in lower than the most recent estimate. 

“Obviously with the way the market conditions are now and the fluctuations of materials, there was a real chance we could get caught in some of those changes, and there were some of those [higher than expected prices] in there — the steel, for example — but there were some other things in there that came in under the estimate,” Winona County Administrator Ken Fritz said. He added, “I’m not happy it’s $28 million to spend for the taxpayers, but as far as a construction project goes, in the end it worked out. There weren’t any bid surprises.”

Fritz pointed out that the $28-million figure includes a $1-million contingency. If there are no unexpected expenses, the county might only pay $27 million.

The County Board is scheduled to vote on whether to accept the bids on August 31, when it also will discuss a groundbreaking date and construction timeline, Fritz said.

The County Board plans to borrow money to finance the new jail, and it took out the first $10-million of debt last November. The county expects to borrow the next $18 million in two chunks, one this fall, and another in January 2022, Fritz said. The standard procedure for local governments is to repay such debt with increased property taxes, spread out over many years. However, some County Board members have argued that paying back the bonds with a sales tax would be a better option. The county already levies a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax for road construction, so such a plan could further increase the local sales tax rate. The County Board will likely decide this fall how to fund the debt payments.