AUGUSTA — Kennebec County commissioners awarded the bid contract for the planned jail expansion at the Kennebec County jail to Callahan Construction, of Augusta, for $638,056 at a special meeting Wednesday.

The move comes nearly a month after county officials opened the bids and found they were three to five times higher than anticipated. Before the project was put out for bids, county officials had expected the project to cost $125,000 to $250,000, based on cost estimates developed by former Sheriff Randall Liberty. The bids they received, however, ranged from $784,700 to $937,500.

County Administrator Robert Devlin said Wednesday that in removing some items from the project and negotiating with low bidder Callahan Construction and Peachey Builders, which was the second-lowest bidder, they were able to arrive at a lower figure.

The money will come from capital improvement funds earmarked for the jail and surplus funds from the 2016 fiscal year.

“This will not affect county taxes,” Devlin said. All of the money has been set aside already, including money identified for the jail project.

“I think we learned a lesson,” Ward 1 Commissioner Patsy Crockett said. “We’ll have to ask for better numbers next time.”

Devlin said this budget move does not affect money that has been set aside for other critical jail projects, such as improvements to the generator.

The Kennebec County jail is one of the most chronically overcrowded jails in the state. County jail officials have been working with police departments in the county to limit, where possible, the number of people who are sent to the jail, to ease the overcrowding.

For most of this year, county officials have been planning a jail expansion that will convert the indoor recreation space into permanent inmate housing. When that project is done, the jail’s capacity will increase to 168 from 147.

On average, county officials are supervising more than 300 people, who are either in the jail, being monitored via Maine Pretrial Services or being boarded at other jails in Maine via contract. The daily cost of boarding inmates at the Cumberland County jail, for instance, would be about $1,500.

At current boarding rates, the expansion project is expected to pay for itself in about 18 months, but Devlin cautioned that the county still will need to board inmates.

Devlin said the jail budget still is expected to end up in the red this year. That’s because the jail funding bill passed by the Legislature did not include any funding for boarding inmates elsewhere. He has said the effect on the county of boarding inmates could reach $1 million in this fiscal year, about one-sixth of the county’s $5.9 million corrections budget.

Devlin said the contract is expected to be signed as soon as next week. With a work schedule of 150 days, he said, the project is scheduled to be complete well before next summer.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ