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United Way of Lancaster County


County commissioners tee up votes on ‘owner’s rep’ for prison project, commissary contract

An aerial view of the land acquired by Lancaster County for a new prison. (Source: Lancaster County)

Atlanta-based CGL, the nation’s largest criminal justice consulting firm, is clearly the best choice to guide Lancaster County’s prison construction project, members of the county’s selection committee told the county commissioners Tuesday morning.

At $2.56 million, CGL’s proposed fee to be the county’s “owner’s representative” is more than 10 times the $225,450 asking price of Fidevia, the other company that submitted a bid. However, the committee concluded that CGL’s depth of experience justified the higher cost, Deputy Purchasing Director Michael Armer said at Tuesday’s work session.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday morning on awarding CGL the contract.

CGL’s work includes design, consulting, planning and facilities management; its portfolio includes more than 2,000 projects, including more than 70 in Pennsylvania alone. In January, Berks County signed a $650,000 contract with CGL to guide its new prison project.

Fidevia, based in Lititz, is a much smaller firm, and its portfolio is less specialized, encompassing K-12 schools, bank buildings and hotels.

Both companies made presentations to the county commissioners last month, and provided detailed information to the selection committee, which includes the county’s prison warden, solicitor, chief clerk and facilities management department.

Local advantage?

On Tuesday, Commissioner Josh Parsons pressed Armer and selection committee members for more detail on their reasoning. He said he’s reluctant to overrule staff recommendations, but that there are advantages in going with a local firm.

Warden Cheryl Steberger and Director of Facilities Management Bob Devonshire assured him and his fellow commissioners that CGL’s proposal stood out, and that the committee’s recommendation is unanimous and well-founded.

Ed Whatley, CGL vice president of owner representation, said CGL would provide “top level service,” and that its lack of a local office would not prevent it from having staff on site whenever needed. (Steberger and Devonshire noted that the county can provide space for CGL at the prison and the County Government Center.)

CGL benchmarks its fees for owner’s representative contracts at around 1.6% of total project costs, suggesting a rough estimate in this instance of around $150 million to $160 million.

Previous estimates for the prison project have ranged from $100 million to $200 million. With today’s inflation and supply-chain issues, the cost is indeed likely to be in the $150 million to $200 million range, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said.

Around one-third of CGL’s fee will go toward the preliminary work of assessing needs and determining the scope and parameters of the project, Whatley said. That will give the county a good idea of the ultimate project cost, he said: In addition, by providing the design team with guidance that’s as specific and definite as possible, it will limit the potential for “scope creep” and cost overruns.


Meanwhile, the commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on a new contract for the county prison’s commissary, with a commission rate that as of Tuesday appears to still be up for discussion.

Currently, the county receives a commission of 45.65% on commissary sales. At Tuesday’s work session, county staff recommended a contract with vendor Oasis Management Systems of Cumming, Georgia, that reduces the commission to 35%. The change would reduce the amount paid to the county by about $100,000, from a little over $400,000 to $300,000.

At Prison Board meetings earlier this year, Kent Kroehler, of the advocacy group Have a Heart of Persons in the Criminal Justice System, has urged the commissioners to drop the commission, saying it’s an unjust burden on prisoners and their families, who usually have very limited means.

Armer, the deputy purchasing director, said staff surveyed nine of Lancaster’s peer counties and found commissions ranging from 37% to 45%, thus making the proposed 35% the lowest of all.

D’Agostino, however, said he did some price comparisons, and found that even with a 45% commission, commissary prices are equal to or less than those paid by ordinary consumers.

That doesn’t square with assertions that inmates are being overcharged, and accordingly he would not support reducing the rate to 35%, he said.

Commissioner John Trescot noted that the account funded by the commission is flush with cash, with a balance of more than $1 million. He said he supports the 35% commission and the reduced prices it would afford inmates.

Parsons said he’s not opposed to reducing the commission somewhat, perhaps to 37% or 38% to match the lower end of the range found among peer counties.

The proposed contract would begin Friday and continue through July 7, 2026, with an option to extend an additional three years. If the county goes with the 35% commission, Oasis would reduce the price of 40 commissary items and keep the remaining prices unchanged for a full year, Armer said.