The city’s much-maligned plan for a new city jail has reached a critical juncture.
City officials will seek final approval for their amended construction plan from the Virginia Board of Corrections on Dec. 14. Meanwhile, bids for the multimillion-dollar consulting contract to oversee the jail’s construction — initially awarded to the Ridley Group and Associates and then rescinded at the request of Mayor Dwight Jones — are due Dec. 15.
The state approved some elements of the $134.6 million, 1,032-bed jail, but forced the city to revise plans for double-bunked cells that it considered too small. The city is seeking approval again this week. The state must pass off on the plan for the city to receive up to $30 million in state funds for the project.
Meanwhile, at least two city councilmen continue to question the project and the city’s hiring of the Ridley Group to oversee the jail’s construction earlier this year. In early September, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall quietly increased Ridley’s existing contract with the city, ballooning the agreement from $620,000 in 2010 to $3.3 million.
Calling the change a “contract modification,” the city also changed the scope of Ridley’s duties from assisting with construction plans and overseeing “recommendations of the Mayor’s Jail Commission Report issued on Sept. 29, 2006,” to “construction manager” of the new jail through January 2014.
After learning about the change, Mayor Dwight Jones directed Marshall to rescind the contract and put the work out for public bid. The city issued a request for proposals in November, which are due Thursday.
Councilman Bruce Tyler, however, says the procurement process the city is using to contract the work may be improper. The city appears to consider the work a professional service, although construction management isn’t a professional service, according to the state code. It’s selecting vendors based on qualifications, then negotiating a price later.
“Procurement is very clear with regard to professional services. You send out an RFP — it is a qualification proposal, it is not a dollar proposal,” says Tyler, who’s an architect. He says the jail management contract should have been handled as a competitive bid procurement, where the contract is awarded to the lowest bidder.
Councilman Marty Jewell is also concerned about the procurement process. Jewell also worries that the jail site is still too small, and the city isn’t accounting for concerns about soil contamination.
“This whole thing is being set up with change orders that [are] going to cost us through the nose at the end of the day,” Jewell says. “That and the freaky-deaky way this was handled.”