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Construction of the Larimer County jail expansion started Wednesday morning with a groundbreaking ceremony.

The project has been in the works for over two years. The construction, which will cost $75 million and is being financed through certificates of participation, is expected to take 34 months and will nearly double the size of the current Larimer County Jail facility in Fort Collins.

Several dozen people gathered at the construction site Wednesday morning to hear remarks from Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, County Commissioner Steve Johnson and jail director Capt.Tim Palmer.

The commissioners and county staff members involved with the project dug their shovels into a small patch of plowed dirt to symbolically mark the start of construction.

“I thought it would be a little bit bigger than this for $75 million,” Johnson joked.

Johnson said the project is important because it will improve the quality of life for the jail’s inmates and staff. When incarcerated, people “can come back out worse, or they can come back out better,” he said. The expansion will hopefully help them to come out better, Johnson said.

The project planning began in October of 2017, and the commissioners approved the project 3-0 last July.

“It’s a difficult thing to sell,” said Palmer. “Nobody wants a jail.”

The contractor that will build the facility is J.E. Dunn Construction, and the architect is DLR Group. Both are based in Denver. Palmer said both have been good to work with and are giving the county a lot of value for its money.

“We’ve had great partners in helping make this project happen,” he said.

The project was not slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic, Palmer said. Design and construction planning was being done in the spring, and everyone was able to work remotely.

Though the jail will dramatically increase in size, little of the new space will be used to add more beds. Instead, it will create more room for jail programs, kitchens, medical treatment areas and training rooms for the staff, Palmer said.

Approximately 150 new beds that are added will be for inmates with special needs, such as those with mental health or substance abuse issues. The jail can currently house a maximum of 617 people, though it is considered at capacity at 500.