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Escambia County has chosen a Pensacola-based firm to build the new Escambia County Jail.

On Thursday, the board of county commissioners voted unanimously to award Whitesell-Green Construction the $128.6 million contract to construct the facility.

The new facility will be built adjacent to, and will connect with, the existing 1980s-era jail, which has become severely overcrowded following a 2014 gas explosion which destroyed the county’s central booking facility. County commissioners voted last year to spend $4.5 million to acquire the McDonald Shopping Center, located on the southeast corner of Fairfield Drive and Pace Boulevard, and will use a portion of the land for the new jail site.

Conceptual rendering for a new Escambia County Jail that could be built by Whitesell-Green and Caddell. (Escambia County/Special to The Pulse)

Two people were killed and more than 180 were injured in the April 2014 blast which destroyed the Central Booking and Detention, or CBD, facility on nearby Leonard Street. As part of an agreement with federal officials to replace the facility, about $48 million has been allocated from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state toward the demolition of the CBD and construction of a new jail. The county plans to fund the balance of the project — some $80 million or more — using a mix of Local Option Sales Tax dollars and funds from the county’s general fund.

The loss of the CBD left Escambia County with far fewer beds than inmates, forcing the county to spend nearly half a million dollars each month to house some inmates in nearby counties. In the overcrowded Escambia jail, county officials have doubled the number of bunks, but some inmates have still been forced to sleep on the floor. Designed to house 779 inmates, the existing jail held 1,043 inmates as of Monday, with 240 inmates being housed at the county’s road prison and another 208 held at the Walton County Jail.

The two finalist proposals were just over a million dollars apart, with a joint venture between Whitesell-Green and Caddell bidding $128,609,505 and a group led by W.G. Yates & Sons Construction bidding $129,776,067. County officials have already approved $16.3 million for site preparation work, which could push the project’s total cost to as much as $146 million.

Whitesell-Green, based in Pensacola, has partnered with Montgomery, Ala.-based Caddell, which has constructed a number of state and federal prisons across the country, as well as Lexington, Ky.-based engineering and architecture firm GRW.

Construction on the new jail could start as early as January, with completion slated for the end of 2019.

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