Construction began on the Ector County Law Enforcement Center expansion more than two months ago, and progress is starting to show as the foundation is beginning to take form.

Ector County Building Maintenance Director Charlie Pierce said the progress on the expansion is coming along well, give or take a few days of delay due to recent rains. All of the footing has been poured for the kitchen area and most of the jail area of the new building, he said. Footing is poured into trenches prior to the foundation, intended to help support the foundation and prevent settling.

All of the underground electric wiring and plumbing has been taken care of as well, Pierce said.

Pierce said that right now work is being done to start laying a concrete block foundation for the kitchen area of the new building.

The expansion, which was approved by county commissioners last May to be paid for by a $25 million debt issuance, includes a 60,000 square foot building to the Ector County Law Enforcement Center with 412 beds, bringing the total number of beds the jail will have up to 1,019. Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said the new building should help lower the costs spent on housing inmates in other county jails, which costs around $8,000 a day. Ector County has contracts with eight other counties to house inmates.

Currently, Ector County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Sgt. Gary Duesler said the jail is housing 673 inmates, but of that number, 63 are in Hudspeth County, 27 are in Lynn County, 18 are in Parker County, and two are in Limestone County. Duesler said the number will fluctuate but it usually stays at around 100 inmates in outside county jails.

Several additions have been approved along with the expansion since construction began. Improvements include a guard patrol system, mandated by the state, surveillance cameras for the jail addition, new kitchen equipment, door hinges for the jail cells, replacing boilers with tankless water heaters, flatwork for the sheriff’s office, campus exterior painting and caulking and hollow metal door and frame replacement.

Commissioners also most recently approved the purchase of tilt skillets for the jail’s kitchen to be bought for $30,007 out of the jail expansion fund, and paid JSA Architects $42,000 from the fund to design a new abandoned vehicle and forensics storage building.

The items approved by commissioners brought an additional cost of around $678,000 to be paid for by the debt issuance. But the changes can be paid for right now, as the bid for the construction of the expansion came in lower than expected at around $18.9 million to Cooper Construction, about $3.5 million lower than expected, when including the $1,380,450 in professional services, the $142,700 bond issuance cost and other soft costs, such as advertising and travel expenses.

After including the costs of the additions already approved, commissioners have a little under $3 million left in the jail expansion fund. Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said he isn’t worried about that fund running out, and Pierce said he doesn’t expect any more jail additions to be presented to the commissioners.

“We have a substantial amount of money in there for overruns,” Childers said. “I feel pretty confident that it’ll be under budget or right on budget.”

The only item still left to be purchased is the bid for who will build the evidence storage building, but Childers said he was unsure when a bid for that would be selected.

Pierce said the expansion is still on schedule to be completed in about 20 months, which means construction should be finished around October of 2019.