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ORLANDO-Orange County officials are meeting with Haskell Co. of Jacksonville, FL this week to try and head off a future legal headache on the planned first-phase, 125,000-sf, 652-bed expansion of the county’s inmate-jammed 23-year-old jail.

The jail is coincidentally located near the 33rd Street business park, one of the area’s hottest industrial submarkets.

If Haskell, a national general contractor with jail construction experience, can’t do the expansion for the budgeted $25 million and bring the job in after 12 months, elected officials say they will give the work to Centex-Rooney Construction Co. of Fort Lauderdale, FL, the county procurement staff’s initial selection.

The contract hasn’t been signed. The first-phase was originally scheduled to be completed by November 2002. Now Haskell is telling the county it needs at least 16 months and $3 more million to do the job. Elected officials who voted 5-1 for Haskell in September 2000 are furious.

“They’re making us look like pansies,” a staffer for one of the commissioners tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

“It sounds like the old bait and switch game, doesn’t it?” another commission staff member tells GlobeSt.com.

Haskell officials couldn’t be reached. A company representative tells GlobeSt.com Haskell doesn’t comment on pending contracts.

But the company was making plenty of comment 13 months ago when officials promised county chairman Rich Crotty and commissioners Haskell would not only do the job for $25 million on a 12-month track but would also give 77% of its subcontracted work to minority-owned firms and businesses owned by Orange County women.

That also hasn’t happened, Crotty’s office confirms. The figure is closer to 34%.

The two-story first-phase is being done at a hard construction cost of $200 per sf or $38,344 per bed. The jail was built to hold 3,000 inmates. It now houses 4,300 male and female offenders.

Centex-Rooney, a 75-year-old firm with equally impressive jail construction credentials, was awarded a $60 million contract to do the second phase expansion. The size of that addition and the number of beds is undetermined, county correctional officials tell GlobeSt.com.

The county’s procurement committee, which screens and evaluates contractors before making a recommendation to the full commission, had selected Centex-Rooney for both phases of the total $85 million job.

But after intense lobbying by Haskell and its hired public relations firm, commissioners rejected its own staff’s recommendation and gave the nod to Haskell. Centex-Rooney told the county it could do the first phase for the budgeted amount and complete the work in less than 12 months.

“Good old politics,” Dean Fritchen, senior associate, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com. “Maybe the county now will listen to its staff a little more closely.”

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