See related story from our partners at Fox8 News.

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

With a pricetag now in excess of $80 million, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has gone 50 percent over budget to build a kitchen, warehouse and power plant for his new jail complex, a facility with a capacity to feed four times as many inmates as can be housed in the pared down jail Gusman is being permitted to construct.

Gusman is on the hook for $17.8 million in optional extras, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to pay because the extras “were not deemed essential to the function and capacity” of the buildings that the new facility is supposed to replace, The Lens has learned. The extras range from an ice-maker to slate tiles and a diesel generator.

FEMA initially slated $50 million (correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly said $46.5 million) for the building in March 2009 as part of a settlement of about $200 million to replace jail facilities that were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.

An architect’s rendering shows the building that will house a kitchen, warehouse and power plant.

Since then, the cost has ballooned to just over $80 million, with FEMA agreeing on Feb. 2 to pick up $63 million of that total. The portion of the increase that FEMA has agreed to underwrite includes the cost of additional freight elevators and a fire pump room to comply with state fire regulations, FEMA said.

Code compliance aside, Gusman also has made enhancements to the facility in excess of its original capacity, FEMA has found. And under the agency’s strict brick-for-brick replacement rules, the decision leaves Gusman on the hook for an extra $17 million.

Through his public relations firm, Gusman declined to comment on the options or reasons for the substantial size of the kitchen.

With a capacity to serve 25,000 meals every 12-14 hours, according to Gusman’s calculations, the new kitchen appears scaled to plans for a much larger facility than the 1,438-bed jail that the City Council agreed two weeks ago to permit. Assuming three meals a day for 2,000 prisoners and staff, or 6,000 meals a day, Gusman’s new kitchen is at least four times too big.

Gusman had fought to replace the jail’s pre-Katrina capacity of 7,500 beds with a 4,000-bed facility. The City Council’s unanimous vote for the 1,438-bed jail was in line with an analysis of suitable size commissioned by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s jail working group.

Gusman began work on the kitchen, warehouse and power plant in March 2010, without waiting for the city to complete its conditional-use review of the rest of the sprawling jail complex. Gusman skirted the conditional-use process for the kitchen building by claiming he was only replacing facilities destroyed during the storm.

A city zoning officer said requiring Gusman to go back through the zoning process is unlikely. Members of the City Council declined to comment, as did the Landrieu administration.

Ironically, Gusman himself invoked FEMA’s brick-for-brick rule in pushing back against city efforts to modify his plans for the 1,438-bed jail facility. His warning: FEMA will “only fund replacement structures with the same capacity and function” as those that were destroyed in the storm.

Gusman’s warehouse and kitchen building is separate from an $8 million, 400-bed temporary jail currently under construction. Gusman had initially sought $11 million for the temporary jail, a figure that was recently reduced by FEMA. Gusman has yet to select a firm to build the more permanent 1,438-bed jail facility, projected to cost at least $30 million.

New Orleans’ tradition of building oversized jail facilities — something Gusman opposed during his tenure as a New Orleans City Council member — has attracted national media attention.

A cost overrun for jail facilities is hardly unique in the history of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. In the 1990s, former Sheriff Charles Foti inflated a $3.5 million contract for a new jail into a $12 million contract to build two new jails. Foti and former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy quietly signed change orders to add a second building that was larger and more expensive than the one put out to public bid.

Gusman’s $80 million kitchen, warehouse and power plant facility can be compared with completed jail projects in other cities.

•For $84 million, the Los Angeles Police Department just built a 512-bed facility in the city’s downtown area. Five-thousand square feet bigger than Gusman’s kitchen building, the LAPD jail also includes a kitchen, warehousing, a power plant facility and, as a concession to the streetscape, a specially commissioned sculpture at the entrance.

•For $58 million, Portland, Oregon, in 2004 built a 500-bed jail, including kitchens, warehouse and power facilities.

•Last year Huntsville, Alabama completed work on a 1,240-bed jail without a kitchen and warehouse at a cost of $70 million.