SRPMIC Justice Center, Courtesy of Gould Evans

Justice for All: Construction in Indian Country

There are 22 casinos in Arizona. One planned casino currently under construction on the Tohono O’odham Nation will cost $600M, bring in $100M in economic impact during the construction process and about $300M once it’s fully functional, according to reports by Indian Country Today.

Income from tribal businesses, including casinos, is the only non-federal funding many tribes have due to an inability to levy property and income taxes. A portion of gaming funds must be reintroduced into the community to fund the tribal government, economic development and the general welfare of members, among other things. However, many tribes still cannot always afford to maintain healthcare, education and judicial projects.

Indian Health Services (IHS) determines which healthcare projects will be constructed in Indian Country. According to its website, there are only nine facilities in Arizona. For a four-year span, between 2009 and 2013, only three projects nationally were selected to receive funding — one was a hospital in San Carlos, Ariz., awarded to McCarthy Building Companies in 2009, with a five-year funding forecast and completion expected in late 2012. The project was completed in December 2014.

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Ak-Chin Justice Center Lobby

Around the time that work commenced on the project, Congress significantly tightened up on domestic spending, which had an impact on the Department of Interior, which controls funding for IHS through the Department of Health & Human Services. The cuts affected the San Carlos hospital project funding during fiscal years 2010 through 2012.

“The cuts had an effect on the construction approach and project momentum,” says Eric Doran, project director for McCarthy Building Companies on the San Carlos hospital. “To ensure that progress continued, albeit at a slowed pace, we collaborated with the project architect RMKM and the client and adjusted our plan by breaking the project into manageable pieces that could be completed within the budget allocated each year. Basically, we created small construction packages within the overall project budget each year and were able to keep the project moving forward. This approach is a more expensive way to build, but our construction team worked to ensure funds were allocated to the right things at the right time in order to minimize cost escalation and value engineering non-critical items, while keeping key design elements in the project.”

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Ak-Chin Justice Center

McCarthy was awarded another healthcare facility at Ft. Yuma about a year later, but the project remains on the IHS list as it waits for funding and the initial award was rescinded.

“Having a five-year timeline for construction was much longer than expected, and the delays were the result of funding issues that the IHS faced, so you can see that even projects that receive initial funding are subject to budgetary issues (or delays in this case) based upon congressional allocation of funding to IHS, which usually occurs annually,” says a spokeswoman for McCarthy.

When it comes to funding for other public service projects, including schools and judicial centers, more tribes seem to be dipping into funds raised by funding and owning their own public improvements, according to Kitchell’s Kari McCormick. Though McCarthy Building Companies isn’t seeing the same trend.

“In healthcare, we are not seeing any large projects come to market that do not have IHS funding,” says Doran.

Even Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), a tribal community that has seen charter schools and self-funded judicial projects, is working with IHS in the development of an ambulatory center that would utilize federal funds if approved.

Kitchell’s McCormick says self-funded hospitals are happening primarily outside of Arizona. However, those that are, she says, are most likely using Public Law 93-638, a self-determination contracting law.

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Kayenta Multi-Purpose Justice Center

“You have to remember a lot of the tribes don’t have the higher level of healthcare provided to them,” says McCormick. “A lot come down to Phoenix Indian Medical Center.”

Kitchell has worked on a large number of detention centers in America. Ak-Chin’s new justice center, constructed by Kitchell, was largely funded by the tribe. However, even if a tribe self-funds, in order to qualify for operational or other federal aid, the buildings must be constructed to Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, standards.

“Tribes with gaming funds often use those funds to support their communities with various construction projects,” says  Justin Kelton, executive vice president of McCarthy’s Arizona construction. McCarthy has completed numerous casino and hospitality projects, as well as water treatment facilities for tribes in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and California.

Kitchell, on the other hand, is seeing a need for more judicial, healthcare and education facilities on tribal land.

“Tribes are trying to reinvest in their communities,” says McCormick, adding, “The gaming market has matured now, so [tribes] can put it toward what they wanted to do. Unfortunately, the non-gaming tribes are not at that same stage.”

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Southwest corner view

According to a report by the National Congress of American Indians, there are only 2,380 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal uniformed officers to serve 1.4 million Indians on 56 million acres (in the contiguous U.S.). This comes out to about 1.3 officers per 1,000 citizens. In non-Indian communities, that number is about 2.9 officers per 1,000 in populations less than 10,000. The report estimates a minimum of 4,290 officers are needed in Indian Country.

Kitchell has completed two justice-related projects since December 2013. The Kayenta Multi-Purpose Justice Center, funded federally through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, on the Navajo Nation brought 64 mixed-use beds, raised control rooms, booking and recreation areas and staff offices in 50KSF. More recently, Kitchell completed the Ak-Chin Justice Center in Maricopa, which houses tribal courts, police and detention facilities (36 beds ranging from minimum to maximum security), office suites for lawyers, programs, judges and clerks and a shooting range. The center was designed with input of 15 tribes.

Not all tribes have their own jails, says McCormick. Some contract with county or local jurisdictions when their members are arrested.

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Ak-Chin Justice Center night exterior

“Well overdue for the community, the complex replaces a series of run down trailer buildings that initially housed these functions,” writes Kitchell Senior Editor Karen Strauss in a RED Award nomination. “This in and of itself will have an impact on the health, safety and welfare of the users and community.”

Upcoming is a 92KSF facility on the SRPMIC. It will consolidate judicial, court administration and legal services. The project will be funded by general revenues from all community enterprises, including gaming, says SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray, Sr.

“As economic development activity increases along with new federal laws (i.e. the Tribal Law and Order Act and Violence Against Women Act) there is an increased demand to have a robust judicial system that adapts to the foreseen growth,” says Ray.

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Amanda Ventura

About Amanda Ventura

Amanda Ventura is an editor, award-winning writer and pop culture enthusiast. When she's not up against deadlines, she is exploring Arizona, trying recipes that require every dish in her kitchen be used, collecting 5K swag bags and race numbers and volunteering at a local animal shelter. Her bookshelf is full of autobiographies and her desk is covered in Sticky Notes. She dislikes the Oxford comma and still cannot believe she gets to meet and write about interesting people for a living.

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