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Committee recommends TranSystems to design county correctional facility

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)

The committee charged with evaluating design teams for the county’s new correctional facility is recommending that Ebensburg-based TranSystems Corp. be awarded the contract.

TranSystems “brings the experience and expertise needed” and was the committee’s unanimous choice, Director of Purchasing Linda Schreiner told the county commissioners at their work session Tuesday morning.

Warden Cheryl Steberger said TranSystems offers a “wonderful balance” between ensuring security and designing environments that look normal and non-carceral.

The commissioners will not act on the recommendation this week or next, to give themselves time to review it, Chairman Ray D’Agostino said. The earliest they would bring forward a resolution would be the week of Sept. 18.

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

Warden Cheryl Steberger, left, and Lancaster County Purchasing Director Linda Schreiner discuss the recommendation of TranSystems to design the county’s new correctional facility at the county commissioner’s work session on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The recommendation is the latest step in the process of choosing a design firm, which began with the issuance of a request for proposals in March. Four firms responded: TranSystems; Dewberry, of Fairfax, Virginia; STV, of Douglassville; and USA Architects, of Easton.

They were evaluated by the committee, which includes representatives from the county’s legal, financial, administrative and facilities departments and the County Prison. The Purchasing Department’s only role is to provide administrative support, Schreiner said.

The committee eliminated USA Architects in an initial cut that winnowed the field to the top three. The remaining firms made presentations to the commissioners in May. Since then, the committee has been reviewing additional information and conducting reference checks with previous clients of the firms, Schreiner and Warden Cheryl Steberger said.

The process has been thorough and exhaustive, Schreiner said. Commissioner Josh Parsons said that it’s fine that the county has fallen a little behind its projected timeline, because the intention was to be deliberate and make the right choice.

He said all three firms that presented in May appeared qualified, and asked Schreiner and Steberger to expand on the committee’s rationale for picking TranSystems. Schreiner said TranSystems demonstrated a more comprehensive breadth of experience and a stronger track record of projects involving new construction; and that the committee liked its design approach, especially for mental health facilities.

Steberger highlighted the firm’s approach to mental health, saying TranSystems is bringing innovative “out-of-the-box” ideas to the table. She expressed confidence in the team of consultants that would be involved in designing functional spaces such as the kitchen, laundry and health clinic.

Schreiner said TransSystems was the clear favorite of committee members from the start, and remained so at each phase of the evaluation. Committee members voted independently at several stages, always without knowing their colleagues’ choices, she said, and each time, TranSystems was the unanimous pick.

Contract terms are being drafted. Schreiner did not disclose a contract amount or estimate, but said TranSystems’ fee ended up being “the most competitive” of the three.

The committee asked the bidders to provide a “phased-in” approach for their fee schedule, beginning with an initial period to review the project’s programming — that is, decisions on the number, type and size of spaces required at the new correctional facility — before beginning the drafting of blueprints and related documents.

That approach will offer a “break point” that, among other things, will allow for more public input before the design process begins in earnest, Schreiner said.

To date, the county has offered two listening sessions for community members to weigh in on their hopes, recommendations and priorities for the new site.

TranSystems has built 27 correctional facilities in Pennsylvania and 26 more in 14 other states. For Lancaster County, its team would include HDR, which specializes in correctional healthcare; Professional Systems Engineering, for security technology; Camacho, for kitchen and laundry design; and JEM Group, an independent cost estimator.