CHICAGO -- The Hennepin County, Minn., Board of Commissioners last week voted to acquire a site for a new county jail that would be financed largely by general obligation bonds.

The proposed jail, prompted by relieve severe overcrowding at the present jail in Minneapolis, would cost roughly $170 million, according to Phil Weber, senior financial analyst for Hennepin County. With interest and financing costs, the county could end up paying $297 million for development and construction, he said.

Weber said that the jail, which could be completed by 1998, would be the largest capital project in the county's history. The board will meet tomorrow to discuss a planning schedule for the project, he said.

The estimated cost for the jail includes $6 million to acquire a site in Minneapolis that is owned by a private printing company. Though the firm has agreed to sell the site, negotiations must be completed, Weber said.

Bill Swanstrom, associate county administrator for capital, said that if the jail is built, the county will spend about $1.6 billion over 30 years for the jail, including costs for construction, debt service, and operations.

Swanstrom said that the county officials do not anticipate any problems paying for debt service on the 20-year bonds that would be issued to help finance the project, which would replace the present jail. He said that the debt service would be paid with savings from the streamlining of county operations and by increasing property taxes if necessary.

"The county will continue to maintain its triple-A rulings" from Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Corp., Swanstrom said.

Construction of the jail is expected to cost $115 million, while $5.5 million is projected for site development and demolition of the printing company and about $43 million is slated for design and other costs, Weber said.

Weber said that the final size and cost of the jail must still be approved by the county board. County officials anticipate 895 beds, roughly double the size of the current jail.

Before a jail could be built on the printing company site, Weber said that the Minneapolis City Council must approve a zoning change.

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton did not return phone calls.

The anticipated purchase of the printing company site is a relief for county officials who last year were forced to abandon jail construction plans on the site of the Minneapolis Armory, Weber said.

Last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court barred the county from demolishing the armory, which the county bought four years ago, because of its architectural significance, Weber said. The armory, which was built in 1935, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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