EPHRATA — The planning process for the new Grant County Jail has reached the start of the design phase and negotiations with the Port of Ephrata to purchase more land at the preferred site are in the beginning stages.

County officials hired CRA Architects, out of Tallahassee, Florida, to design the jail. CRA conducted the survey to determine a preferred site, which is the current work release center, 1631 Division St. in Ephrata.

The county already owns land at the proposed site, but not enough for the entire project. The port owns the rest of the site.

Tom Gaines, Grant County central services director, said county officials will travel to Florida next week to look at two jails designed by the firm. That will help officials make some decisions on the materials, Gaines said.

Design is still in the early stages. The size of the new facility is still to be determined, Gaines said, and officials are considering whether to add outbuildings, such as an evidence storage building and a separate space for facility maintenance.

Total project cost is estimated at $45 million. How much jail that will buy in the current market is uncertain.

“Especially in today’s construction dollars. We’re very concerned about that,” Gaines said.

Material costs have increased dramatically in the last year, and in some cases there are supply delays.

County and port officials also have to come to agreement for the purchase of the land. Port of Ephrata Director Mike Wren said that conversation has just started, as county and port officials talked about the project for the first time June 3.

“We’re really at the first of, I’m sure, multiple meetings,” he said.

Wren said the next step for port officials is to start talking to business owners with operations at the port, as well as surrounding residential neighborhoods, and get their reactions to the proposal.

“We’ll see what everyone says,” he said.

Then port commissioners can start considering the process to sell.

“There’s a whole lot to be done yet,” Wren said.

Port officials were contacted at the beginning of the site selection process, he said, but the next thing they heard was the announcement of a preferred site.

“We haven’t been involved in that at all,” he said.

Keeping the jail in Ephrata will keep jobs in Ephrata, he said, and the new jail is projected to add more jobs. Port commissioners also will take that into account when making their decision, and also must consider the effect on other tenants, present and future, at the port.

“We’ve got to see where all that leads. We might be surprised,” Wren said.