State officials are asking construction contractors, financiers and investors around the world to come up with innovative ways to pay for and build a new, cost-effective and efficient Oahu Community Correctional Center that would ideally provide a template for future state construction.
The relatively unusual “Request for Interest” issued Friday by the state Department of Accounting and General Services also offers new details about the footprint for a new OCCC jail in Halawa that would replace the outdated one in Kalihi, where OCCC’s physical and operational limits were exacerbated and highlighted by the spread of COVID-19 last year.
The document also asks for interest in coming up with plans and costs to build a new, streamlined state Animal Quarantine Station that would give up 40 acres of its underutilized Halawa land to accommodate a new OCCC on the eastern side of the property.
Because of advances in rabies prevention, the state no longer needs the existing 1,600 dog and cat kennels at a facility that “has now become oversized and an operational burden,” according to the Request for Interest.
The Request for Interest proposal has been used by DAGS “a couple of times, not too often,” said Joe Earring, DAGS’ planning branch chief.
“We’re trying to see who’s really interested in doing this type of work … and hopefully gives us other ideas,” Earring told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
DAGS is proceeding carefully, especially given problems with the city’s rail project and the state’s projected $1.4 billion budget shortfall over each of the next four years because of COVID-19’s hit on the islands’ tourism-based economy.
At the same time, the Request for Interest sets a high bar, asking for ideas to “Use the new OCCC as an opportunity to develop a template for operational effectiveness” and “reduce operating expenses to enable greater support for health, rehabilitation, and education programs.”
Even with construction in global demand despite the economic slowdown, there is likely to be interest in building the state’s OCCC project, said Mark Polston, director of alternative delivery support for WSP USA, which is helping DAGS with its Request for Interest.
“In general, we’re finding that public infrastructure has not really slowed down, particularly in the United States,” Polston said. “There were some hiccups in 2020, (but) projects are moving forward.”
The new OCCC is planned to house 1,044 male detainees and 288 pre-release inmates. A detention facility is expected to cover 376,000 square feet, and a pre-release facility is planned at 98,000 square feet. OCCC currently has 950 beds, according to the Department of Public Safety.
The new jail is expected to include separate housing for inmates and detainees with mental health issues; and space for education, library, treatment and religious programs; work furlough programs; and education and treatment services.
OCCC, originally called the Oahu Prison, was built in 1916 on its current 16-acre site in Kalihi, bordered by Dillingham Boulevard and Puuhale Road.
One of the original structures is still in use.
When OCCC was redeveloped in 1975, it was intended to house long-term inmates and not designed to separate detainees with mental health issues, which increases risks for both detainees and corrections staff, according to DAGS.
Today OCCC holds inmates awaiting trial or sentencing in 1st Circuit Court for misdemeanor crimes and those with up to two years or so left on their sentences — a group that DAGS called “a short-term, high turnover population” that was not expected back in 1975.
The plan to build a new Oahu jail in Halawa is further along than ever. And DAGS’ Request for Interest is coming while the state is finding high interest in firms looking to finance “solid” construction projects, despite the global construction demand and economic slowdown, said Chris Kinimaka, DAGS’ public works administrator.
“There’s a lot of financing available for infrastructure, and they are looking for projects,” she said. “It is actually a positive. … We’re very solidly moving forward.”
On Friday, Gov. David Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii online program that he hopes government construction helps stimulate the local economy and keeps construction workers employed.
In his State of the State address on Jan. 25, Ige said, “We expect to see investments of $1.1 billion in state capital improvement projects.”