First it was late 2011. 

Then Valentine's Day 2012.

Then June. 

Now, it's October.

The Lancaster County jail opening has been pushed back for nearly a year, but unlike many public building projects where officials might be concerned by a delay, county commissioners and corrections officials are not upset or worried about the long wait.

For now, it's saving the county money.

The goal is to get the jail operational six months after its completion, which now likely will be in October, Corrections Director Mike Thurber told the County Board on Tuesday.

That means additional costs -- higher utilities and hiring 39 correctional officers to staff the new jail for $2.2 million annually -- will be delayed.

Those costs are being pushed off into next year's budget, leaving a somewhat easier road this year.

If the jail does open by March, it will only be open for a third of the budget year, resulting in less strain.

Commissioner Bernie Heier said the board has never asked for or given a must-be-open-by date. The $65 million contract with Sampson Construction doesn’t have a completion date built in, and there aren’t any fines for being late.

Sampson Construction broke ground on the 289,000-square-foot, 779-bed jail at 3801 W. O St. more than three years ago, on July 20, 2009.

Delays started early in the construction process as heavy rains caused problems with dirt work.

Another delay came at the end of 2010 when it was discovered that 145 geothermal wells were not drilled to specifications and had to be redrilled.

More recently, stringing security, Internet and other wiring through the building has taken longer than originally expected, officials said.

Sampson has 60 years of experience and has built four other smaller jails across Nebraska, including Butler, Saunders and Scotts Bluff county facilities and the York women's correctional center.

The Lancaster County project still is on budget.

Heier and other commissioners say they aren’t overly concerned with the delayed opening.

But Heier, who has been heavily involved with the project, said he does worry about correctional officers and inmate safety in the county's current overcrowded jail on a daily basis.

“It’s also a matter of how long the courts will allow inmates to stay in the rec areas,” he said. “Then we would have to send even more out of county for a bigger cost.”

The county corrections system has been overcrowded for a decade, despite alternative sentencing tactics such as house arrest and electronic bracelets.

The downtown jail has a state-rated capacity of 237, but 289 people are crammed into the space, including rec areas not meant for housing inmates.

Another 136 are held at a minimum-security complex in Air Park, which will close after the new jail opens.

The county also spends about $1 million a year sending more than 100 inmates to other counties to alleviate overcrowding. The arrangement means additional costs for transportation and security.

The 39 hires for the new jail would meet minimum staffing requirements of the state jail standards boards.

Heier said they’ll get into the jail when it’s done, and that’s OK with him as long as it’s done right.

“There’s no second chances with a jail,” he said.

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120, jpascale@journalstar.com or follow him @LJSPascale.