Denver jail renovations cost, completion werent accounted for, auditor says

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will better document and monitor ongoing projects after an audit showed a jail expansion project took nearly four times longer and cost 30% more than initially expected.

The renovation of the Denver Sheriff’s Department’s Building 24 at the county jail began in 2017 to expand the number of available beds — from 24 to 96 — for women who need to be separated from the general population because of mental illness or because they need special protection.

It was supposed to be done by January 2018 at a cost of $8.1 million, City Auditor Tim O’Brien said in a June report. But the building didn’t open until this April, transportation department spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said. And the total cost ended up being about $10.7 million.

O’Brien pointed to several things — work orders for the project, sparse documentation to back those changes and years of delays and extra costs that should have been predicted — that he said don’t “pass the test for public accountability and responsible management of public funds.”

The transportation department’s director, Eulois Cleckley, is leaving his position this summer for a similar job in Miami. Mayor Michael Hancock has not yet nominated his replacement.

Crews changed the building’s entrances and exits to better circulate inmates, visitors and jail staff, they added more fire sprinklers, security cameras and a new emergency generator. All of that, Kuhn said, increased the project’s cost and timeline.

“While we regret the project took longer than anticipated to complete, in the end, we delivered a facility that meets the needs of the people who live and work there, addressing complex fire, life and safety requirements so that it operates safely and effectively,” Kuhn said.

But all those extra steps cost the city nearly $2 million more than anticipated, O’Brien said, and the department didn’t keep enough documentation to fully explain why the added costs came as a surprise.

Wold Architects & Engineers, the firm behind the Building 24 project, did not reply to a request seeking comment.

O’Brien said DOTI must better monitor subcontractors and document any changes needed to keep from longer, more expensive projects — including a detailed explanation.

“This isn’t the first report showing a lack of oversight and it won’t be the last construction examination we do on this subject,” O’Brien wrote.

Hancock spokeswoman Theresa Marchetta said the mayor’s office takes the auditor’s recommendations seriously but she couldn’t outline any concrete changes that might come from them. Within the department, Kuhn said officials will better document when a project changes and keep closer watch over contractors.

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