It's going to be a massive undertaking, this remodeling plan for the Law Enforcement Center and the Ellis County Courthouse next door.

The final changes in the plan are being made by Ellis County's architect, which will boil the plan down into a series of documents for contractors to consider and bid on come late spring.

The project will force both the Ellis County Sheriff's office and the Hays Police Department to vacate the building, along with the 30 or so inmates locked into the second-floor jail that is at the heart of the remodeling project.

Exactly how long the project will take is uncertain, said Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund, and will depend on whether contractors have to work around county employees.

That's why he has approached the Catholic Diocese of Salina to see if they might be willing to lease former Kennedy Middle School a half-block north of the courthouse on Fort Street.

"We plan to have a discussion with the church to perhaps rent Kennedy school," Sund said in an interview discussing the status of jail and courthouse projects.

Those two are connected, in part, because some of the jail renovations are complementary to the conversion of the courthouse into a judicial center.

Projects include the construction of an inmate visitation center, linking visitors to inmates via closed-circuit video.

There's also a direct link to what would become a pair of holding cells not far from what will be an expanded second-floor courtroom.

Employees from non-judicial offices -- the county clerk, treasurer, register of deeds and county administrator's office -- all ultimately will move into the former Commerce Bank building.

The remodeling of the jail and courthouse, as well as construction of a rural fire and ambulance service building, all are part of a half-percent sales tax proposal approved by voters last year. The tax took effect in October and already has brought in more than $13,000 in revenue.

The jail and courthouse project is expected to cost $8.5 million.

"We're not going to exceed the budget," Sund said.

Bids have been sharply higher on both the Commerce and ambulance building projects, and the architect plans to make sure that's not the case with the jail.

Instead, Sund said, the architect plans to offer upgrades that can be added to a base bid.

It's not yet known what will be stripped out of the final design to help ensure the project remains less than the budget, but Sund said it could include closing in the hallway that now leads from an entryway to the sheriff and police waiting room.

"At least that's one of the options the architect is talking about," Sund said.

Under the new design, the Hays Police Department will have its own entrance, and the sheriff's office will share an entrance with the courthouse -- the only entryway into the courthouse.

That doorway, on the south side of the courthouse, will lead to a waiting area and the location of the courthouse security detail and metal detector leading into the courthouse. Doorways on the west and north side of the building will become exit-only.

It's possible the video visitation center, linking inmates and families via video, could be an add-on to the base project.

By closing off the hallway, the sheriff's office would gain some additional space, although not nearly as much as the police department would gain.

Construction essentially would close in existing garages on the north side of the LEC, expanding to the north.

The police department would gain space for five offices, an interview room and a conference room.

That's part of the arrangement worked out by the county: The county provides office space for the police department, which mans the dispatching center.

Bids for the courthouse and jail project are expected to be sought in late May or early June, and Sund said it's unlikely they will be delayed.

"He said we can expect pretty severe increases in cost if we hold back," he said of the architect suggesting costs will start climbing relatively dramatically the longer the bids are delayed.

The Kennedy idea surfaced when it became apparent the project might last a year or two, if construction has to take place around existing county operations.

Those discussions haven't taken place yet, and it's not yet known what might be necessary to make Kennedy suitable for county operations.

"We're trying to do this as conservatively as we can," Sunday said of holding costs down as much as possible.