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Commissioners approve TranSystems contract for correctional facility design (update)

In this file photo, TranSystems presents its qualifications to the Lancaster County commissioners on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Pictured are TranSystems’ Assistant Vice President Brian Endler, at podium, with Senior Principal Dave Redemske, left, of HDR, and Csaba Balazs, TranSystems’ lead architect and director of corrections. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Update: On Wednesday, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the contract with TranSystems Corp.

Previously reported:

The Lancaster County Commissioners are poised to vote Wednesday morning on appointing TranSystems Corp. of Ebensberg as the design team for the county’s planned correctional facility.

TranSystems, one of four firms that bid on the project, was the clear frontrunner throughout the selection process, said Linda Schreiner, the county’s director of purchasing. It won every vote that the county’s evaluation committee conducted and is its unanimous choice, she said, recapping the comments she made when she first presented the committee’s recommendation to the commissioners in early September.

The commissioners have been reviewing the recommendation since then, while Schreiner’s team and the company iron out contract details.

The committee comprised representatives from county administration and prison leadership. Schreiner and her department provided administrative support, but were not involved in decision-making.

TranSystems is the successor of L.R. Kimball, the firm that designed the County Prison’s 2006 expansion. TranSystems acquired Kimball two years ago, in 2021.

Evaluation committee members Warden Cheryl Steberger and General Services Director Bob Devonshire seconded Schreiner’s assessment at the commissioners’ work session Tuesday morning.

Steberger praised TranSystems’ forward-thinking approach to prison medical and mental health services. They “push the boundaries, she said: “I have confidence in them.”

“They’re second to none,” Devonshire said, assuring the commissioners that TranSystems will deliver a design for a facility that “we’ll all be proud of for generations.”

TransSystems recognizes how important the project is, and is excited to get started, Assistant Vice President Brian Endler told the commissioners.

Public meeting planned

With all three Lancaster County commissioners indicating support for contracting with TranSystems Corp. to design the new county correctional facility, county administrators are planning a public meeting to introduce the Ebensburg-based company to the community.

The date and time will be announced early next week, Purchasing Director Linda Schreiner said. It will be held at the County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St., and will probably last about an hour, she said.

The event follows two previous listening sessions on the project. The first was in September 2022, shortly after the county’s “owner’s representative,” CGL, began collecting data for the planned facility’s needs assessment; the second this past February. A large public contingent also attended CGL’s presentation of the needs assessment to the Prison Board in December.

Two phases

The proposed contract provides for two phases of work: An initial four-month phase, beginning Oct. 11, then an option to extend for another 44 months, for a total of 48 months, or four years.

The first phase encompasses programming verification — that is, double-checking the project parameters, such as the sizes and types of space to be provided — conceptual design and schematic design. There would then be a “hold point,” allowing the county to thoroughly review and confirm all decisions made. There will be opportunity then for public review and input, Schreiner said.

Assuming everything checks out and the county commissioners agree to continue with TranSystems, the rest of the process would commence: Design development, production of construction documents, contractor bidding and construction.

Under the contract, TranSystems is to be paid $1.4 million for the four-month initial phase, and 3.5% of the approved construction budget for the second phase. If, say, the budget is $150 million — a figure that has been floated as a rough order-of-magnitude estimate — TranSystems’ Phase 2 fee would be $5.25 million.

The county would have the option to negotiate additional contract provisions at the hold point. Commissioner John Trescot, whose professional background is in engineering and project management, recommended it add incentives rewarding TranSystems for making cost-effective decisions and coming in below the agreed budget. That’s a common practice, he said: It might result in TranSystems making more money, but it’s worth it if the county spends less overall.

Commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Josh Parsons agreed that the evaluation committee had done its homework and provided solid reasons for its recommendation. D’Agostino cited six factors: Experience, expertise, innovation, cost, reputation and Pennsylvanian origin. TranSystems checks all six boxes, he said: It boasts impressive in-house expertise and a demonstrated record of innovation in prison mental health facility design; it is Pennsylvania-based and has designed corrections projects in 41 counties here.