A new jail construction project has turned into a house of horrors for the county.
A 40-bed women’s jail in Globe was supposed to take nine months to construct, but work has dragged on for more than two years and additional repair work will likely consume another two months.
County officials say a slew of problems have cost the county an additional $44,000 — pushing the project’s cost up to $850,000 and rising.
Jail officials have had to get crafty with sleeping arrangements, housing as many as three-dozen females in a facility designed to house 18.
The situation is a “nightmare,” said Gila County Sheriff’s Office Major James Eskew, who oversees the health and welfare of county inmates.
“The building has been going on for two years, two months and counting,” he said. “In the meantime, the female overcrowding situation has worsened and we are at
nearly a critical stage. We have been trying desperately to have this contractor finish up and take care of the issues at hand.”
The issues at hand are numerous, including a faulty foundation that is now cracking, leaks in the roof, recreation yards draining into the building, leaky windows and concrete in the pipes.
Steve Stratton, county public works director, said he did not want to hire JE Bowen Construction (JEB) of Mesa, but the company’s low bid came in $60,000 less than other firms.
“It has been a difficult project, but what you are going to find in
times like this is because we are bound to take the lowest responsible bidder that this is what you get and this is why we have had to camp out on top of him.”
JEB’s president Jason Bowen said while the project has had its setbacks, no project is without problems, and despite the county’s criticism, he defended the work.
“I’m sure they will blame the contactor, this is what everyone does, but the project effort is a team effort including owners, user, design team, contractors and subcontractors. So if JEB failed, then so did everyone else involved,” Bowen wrote in an e-mail. “If Gila County wants to make JEB sound bad that is their right to do so, but I do not agree.”
While the county wrestles to get the project back on track, the situation at the existing women’s jail has grown dire.
“I absolutely have no space whatsoever. It is a major issue,” Eskew said.
On Feb. 24, the number of women inmates in Globe was 31. The facility is deigned to house 18.
Eskew said he is forced to use plastic beds in the interim.
Twenty years ago, the county rarely filled the six women beds in Globe. In Payson, no beds were available for women when it was originally built it in 1964.
Women inmates are more prevalent today with one out of every four inmates a female, Eskew said.
Eskew shuffles male and female inmates between Globe and Payson, but may have to transfer some out-of-county if the new jail is not opened soon.
“Space is critically short,” he said.
Both Stratton and Eskew said they knew the new jail was doomed from the beginning.
“Initially, right out of the chute, the very first thing that took place was the contractor came on the job site and began to form the foundation — put in plumbing, electrical and so forth getting ready for the concrete slab for the floor,” Eskew said. “He did that in a timely manner and then it promptly had to be ripped out because the slab itself had several flaws, including not being level.”
After inspectors turned down that slab, it was torn up and the project started over.
Bowen said while the pad had some imperfections, “what concrete slab does not?”
“We were directed to tear the concrete out and start all over and (we) felt this was unreasonable, but we moved forward,” Bowen wrote. “We even offered over laments and/or girding as options, but they rejected these offers.”
When the pad was poured a second time, inspectors found concrete blocking some of the pipes. The county instructed JEB to tear up parts of the slab and re-pour it.
Bowen said concrete likely got into the pipes when the original pad was removed.
“We tried to offer them longer warranty, cleaning, but they refused,” he wrote. “They once again made us tear out some concrete to remove some concrete that could have been cleared out of the line using other sources.”
Today, the concrete slab is still an area of contention.
While construction of the jail is all but finished, additional work on the slab is needed, Eskew said.
Cracks have formed in the floor throughout the building. The cracks are wide enough that you can pull off flakes, a potential liability and weapon, he said.
Eskew says until the floors are resealed, the building cannot house inmates.
Stratton says while the floors were done to specifications, they do not meet the rigorous building standards for a jail.
“An inmate facility is built to different standards than that of office or home structure,” Eskew said. “When you have prisoners that you have to house, everything has to be on the money.”
Bowen said while the concrete has some cracks and imperfections, it is still “a nice presentable pad” similar to one found in a home improvement store.
For the county, this is not the first time it has had issues with JEB. The Bowen group constructed the Wick building in Globe and it too was thrown off course by several issues, Eskew said.
After that project, Stratton said he was leery of the board of supervisors rehiring JEB for the women’s jail, but Bowen said he could do the work.
If JEB is the low bidder on another county project, his work on the women’s jail would be taken into consideration, Stratton said.
JEB started work on the women’s jail in January 2010. Work was slated to wrap up in September of that year.
Eskew said he does not want JEB to reseal the floors and Stratton agreed.
“We don’t want him touching the floor again. We need a contractor that can come in and repair the damage to that floor,” Eskew said.
Stratton expects to receive five informal bids to get the floor resealed.
The jail could open in as few as two months after a walk through of the facility last week found only minor repairs beyond the floor.
Until the work is done, however, the county is holding roughly $40,000 of JEB’s pay.
Any extra work needed during construction, including the pad re-pouring was absorbed by JEB, Stratton said.
Other issues that rose beyond the pad, include a leaking roof, doors and windows. The concrete in the recreation yards was ripped out two times because it was poured wrong and drained toward the doors.
“It has been a nightmare of a project that we are trying to complete, but we are very frustrated with it,” Eskew said.
Stratton notified JEB’s bonding company twice. First, when the work was late and second, when the work was substandard.
JEB was allowed to stay on the project. Bowen said, “Did this project have more than its share of construction issues? Sure, but JEB, at no cost to the county, addressed each issue with our subcontractors and completed the project even when we disagreed with the owners’ unreasonable request at times.”
When the jail finally opens, the county plans to hold a “spend the night in jail” fund-raiser. Then female inmates can move in and finally spread out.
Eskew’s worries are far from over, however, since the existing jails desperately need upgrading.
The Payson jail is in constant disrepair and both facilities are past their prime, he said.
While the 152 beds for male inmates in Globe is enough to keep the population level manageable, Eskew releases many inmates early.
In the last 53 days, the jail has released 357 prisoners.
“If I had just half of those prisoners still in custody, I would have enough to fill the Globe jail if it was empty and the Payson jail and still have some left over,” he said.
Inmates are released early if they are not considered a danger to the community or themselves, or if they are nearing their release date.
Eskew carries around a small notepad with the current number of inmates wherever he goes.
“If I don’t keep track, I will have prisoners hanging off the rafters, I have no bed space,” he said. “It is a real, real issue that needs constant monitoring.”