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The good: Salt Lake County only has to whittle $17 million more from the cost of the county's new jail for the project to be on budget.

The bad: The only thing left to cut is jail cells. To save the millions needed, hundreds of jail cells would have to be slashed from the project.The ugly: That means the new jail, hailed as the solution to Salt Lake County's jail crisis, might actually be full within a year of moving inmates into it.

Architectural bosses notified county officials Wednesday that architectural estimates suggest the $80 million jail the county wants would actually cost $97 million to build.

County officials took the news calmly. "Those are just architect estimates. What really counts is when the Layton-Oklund team gets out there and does their bid package. I think we will be pleasantly surprised," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson.

The estimates are higher because the county has gone from the 1,792 beds originally planned to the 2,088 beds now being discussed, Overson said. "If we go back to 1,792 beds, which we originally planned to build, I think we'll be fine."

But the county's own project management team warned of deeper cuts. If the guaranteed maximum cost - the price construction bosses promise they will build the project for - is also $97 million, "the only possible solution is to take out one of the jail cell pods," project manager Lee Beneco told county officials. Each pod costs $13.6 million to build.

That means the new jail would only have 1,376 beds, said Salt Lake County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dan Ipsen. The county expects to fill 1,000 beds when the jail opens in December 1998. Within a year, those 1,376 beds would be filled. "We would be maxed out and that would put us right back to where we are today," he warned.

Ipsen urged the county to build all four jail cell pods now.

But Overson thinks the county could build three and just build the shell of the fourth, as it did for the C pod at Oxbow Jail.

Then when the county needs the fourth pod in a few years, it could finish it then, the commissioner suggested.

Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi would rather find the money to finish the entire project now. He recommended the county bond to its maximum capacity short of raising taxes to fund the entire project.

The county is $13 million short of its bonding capacity, said David Marshall, assistant director of county community support services. It's unclear how much of that can be used without raising taxes.

The county has done considerable cutting already, scrapping an $8 million office building for county deputies and a special operations building.

The $97 million estimate includes $13 million set aside for contingency costs. If that money isn't needed, the project could be close to budget without dropping a pod or increasing the county's fiscal burden.

But that's not likely, said Basil Acey, project manager for the architect. For a project this size, $13 million is a pretty slim contingency budget and it will likely be needed.

This grim news is coming early in the design phase. Construction won't begin until autumn.

The core of the new jail at 3300 South and 900 West is being built for 4,000 inmates. Central facilities from the kitchen to the booking area will be built now for 4,000 prisoners, but the pods for that many won't be built for several years.