Two jail inmates are suing Pennington County because they say they are being denied specialty meals to meet their religious requirements. 

The Pennington County Board of Commissioners approved a bid from Scull Construction Service for $5,282,500 for a renovation and expansion project at the jail that has been years in the making. 

Board members approved the vote 3-1, with Commissioners Lloyd LaCroix, Ron Buskerud and Deb Hadcock voting in favor of the bid and Commissioner George Ferebee voting against. Commissioner Mark DiSanto was not at the meeting. 

"We’re super excited about this project, and the commission giving us good support to move forward," Pennington County Chief Deputy Brian Mueller told the Journal after the meeting. "We’ve been working on it for a long time."

The project, which the county first approved for design, bidding and construction administration in October 2017, will primarily upgrade the jail's laundry and kitchen facilities. Mueller said there are currently 624 beds in the jail's adult facility, and the kitchen serves approximately 775 people, from jail inmates to juvenile services center detainees to clients from several places, including the county's recently completed Care Campus. 

The size of the new kitchen and laundry facilities could handle a potential third tower of the jail if it were to be built, Mueller said, and will increase the jail's serving capacity by about 250 people, for a total of 1,000 to 1,100 people. 

"We are trying to adequately size our kitchen and laundry to meet our current needs, and also realistic needs into the future," Mueller said.

While upgrading outdated infrastructure, the project will also make the county more efficient, Mueller said. Right now, laundry services are done in each of the county's facilities. Once the facilities are upgraded, they will nearly all be done inside the jail, utilizing inmate labor. 

Tuesday's bid approval comes after commissioners unanimously rejected three bids for the project in September, when the bids came in too high. Base bids at that time ranged from $6.99 million to $7.4 million. 

Mike Kuhl, director of building and grounds for the county, and Mueller said the new project bid removes some elements, such as a renovation of the existing laundry and kitchen facilities, which will be vacated once the new facilities are built. The original project bid also included more extensive renovations to the administrative area of the jail and in the booking area. Mueller said those projects could be completed in the future as funds become available. 

But for now, the re-scoped project focuses on building new laundry and kitchen facilities in what is currently a covered parking space for law enforcement vehicles, and turning a partially covered parking lot into a fully covered lot for law enforcement vehicles. 

Kuhl presented the scaled-down project bids on Tuesday. He said this time four general contractors submitted bids, with base bids ranging from $4.8 million to $5.4 million. The base bids cover the core of the project, while contractors also included "alternate" bids for two potential add-ons. 

Scull Construction's was the lowest base bid, at $4,883,000. Kuhl recommended also approving an add-on to the base construction plans, called Alternate 1, for an additional $399,500 for a conference room adjacent to the jail's administrative office area.

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Another potential add-on to the project, called Alternate 2, to add a water softening system and domestic booster pump system, was scrapped for now. That would have added another $80,485, by Scull's bid. With the base bid and Alternate 1, the construction contract with Scull will total $5.28 million. 

Ferebee, who voted against the project, questioned in particular the need for the alternate add-on. The county is in debt, he said, and should be more careful.

"We spend and spend and spend and we’re broke. And we’re in the hole," he said. Rounding off the Alternate 1 bid at half a million dollars, he continued, "Do we really need half a million dollars for a conference room?"

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said the conference room will be built above the single story law enforcement vehicle secure entry, making it a unique kind of construction. He added that building it adjacent to the jail's administrative offices paves the way for renovating the administration space within the jail in the future when funds are available. 

In his last meeting before his term expires as a commissioner, Ferebee said he wouldn't vote for the project due to the cost.

"That’s one of the reasons I ran four years ago, is to get control on all the regulation that this county does to rural folks, and the spending it does, asks, from all the residents of Pennington County," he said.

Commissioners Ferebee, Buskerud say goodbye

Commissioners paid special respect to outgoing commissioners Ferebee, of District 1, and Buskerud, of District 5. 

Their terms expire Dec. 31 after Buskerud chose not to run again, and Ferebee was defeated in the June primary by Ron Rossknecht, who went on to win the general election. 

Chairman LaCroix gave both commissioners a gift and presented each of them with the nameplates that identified their seats in the County Administration Building.

He and Hadcock thanked them both for their service on the board. Despite Ferebee's often contentious interactions with his fellow board members, including a call for his resignation earlier this year, they praised him for asking questions and challenging the status quo. 

Buskerud spoke briefly, thanking his fellow commissioners and county staff for their work and support. Ferebee declined to speak, saying only "There’s a lot to say, but I’m not going to say it today."

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Contact Candy DenOuden at candy.denouden@rapidcityjournal.com

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Online Editor for the Rapid City Journal.