AUGUSTA — Less than nine months after the Kennebec County jail expansion project was sent out to bid, it’s substantially complete with only a few details to be wrapped up.

When they are completed, Kennebec County officials say, they will be able to house more inmates at the chronically overcrowded jail and spend less money sending inmates to be boarded at other county jails in Maine.

“We’re excited,” Lt. Bryan Slaney of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, said last week, standing in the new area with Staff Sgt. Corey Goodchild during a tour of the new space. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The new space could house up to 22 inmates, but the final determination rests with the state Department of Corrections, based on square footages for both sleeping areas and day space.

“We’ve been working with them through this process, so we should be good to go,” Slaney said.

Ryan Andersen, manager of Correctional Operations at the Maine Department of Corrections, said Monday the final inspection is likely to take place before the end of the month.

“There have been a couple of delays,” Andersen said. The project had been expected to be completed in April.

Andersen said he’s been involved with the project since its inception, and he reviewed the work when the project was 75 percent completed. He had no concerns at that point, he said.

The unit has two floors. The upper floor is an open area containing 11 bunk beds. The lower floor is the common area, with tables, pay phones and toilet and shower facilities. A station has been installed for a corrections officer that will be outfitted with video screens to allow supervision around the clock for both levels, both in the unit and remotely in the jail.

The new unit is a direct supervision unit, the only one in the jail, Slaney said. Because of that, corrections officers will have to undergo training before they can work in it. After the initial training, he said, the jail’s training sergeant will be qualified to train corrections officers on site.

“The officers are excited,” Slaney said. “This opens up more positions for the them. It’s good all around for the facility. Morale is up, staff is up. We’re moving into uncharted territory.”

Recently, Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said the jail is now fully staffed for the first time in a long time.

The new unit will house male trusties — inmates who work in the jail as janitors or kitchen workers or outside the jail as laborers.

Crowding at the jail, built nearly 160 years ago, has been a problem for several years.

A request in 2015 by then-Sheriff Randall Liberty shone a bright light on it.

Liberty asked police departments in Kennebec County to limit arrests of people accused or suspected of minor crimes to keep them out of the jail.

The jail’s capacity is 147, but at that time inmate numbers were topping 200 regularly. In the summer of 2014, the jail population reached 240.

To accommodate those higher numbers, cots were put in classrooms and common areas

Currently, county corrections officials routinely have about 300 people under their supervision, either in the jail, through Maine Pretrial Service or boarded at other county jails.

The final tab on construction is estimated at about $675,000, Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator, said.

This investment is aimed at cutting boarding costs.

This year, the Kennebec County jail is facing a $377,000 budget shortfall because of the costs to board inmates at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, and at the Cumberland County jail.

Devlin has told Kennebec County commissioners that the project could pay for itself in 18 months.

County officials spent most of 2016 planning the expansion.

In mid-November, Callahan Construction was identified as the successful bidder at a cost of $638,056.

The project started with demolition of the recreation space. By early January, workers from Callahan Construction started moving pieces of prefabricated flooring in to the space. The flooring pieces were set on brackets to make the floor of the upper story. A staircase was added inside the unit, and adjustments were made to the windows.

While the construction presented some logistical challenges in moving materials into a secure facility, they weren’t the only ones. The jail is in Augusta’s historic district, and that imposed limits on the expansion project.

The building footprint can’t be extended past the expansion completed a little more than two decades ago, and its height is limited to four stories. In an interview last September, former Sheriff Ryan Reardon said while the earlier expansion was designed so that building could take place over the sally port, it’s cost prohibitive, because it would include moving the building’s systems like heating, ventilation and air conditioning and plumbing.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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