The Pasco County jail expansion is finally underway.

County officials and construction team members flipped over shovels of dirt at the site of the Pasco County Detention Center recently, a ritual to mark the start of work.

Pasco voters approved a $145 million jail expansion in 2018 to accommodate the county’s growing inmate population. Officials hope they can stop paying other counties for jail space to house Pasco inmates.

The 386,477-square-foot addition, now estimated to cost more than $200 million, will be built on 28.5 acres at the existing jail site in Land O’ Lakes.

Delays in construction and fear that it will not be big enough to meet future demand were a couple of the reasons cited by Sheriff Chris Nocco for turning over jail operations to Pasco County last year.

Nocco said he was also concerned that the county’s ongoing approvals of new home construction will only intensify the need for more inmate beds.

While the addition is expected to provide space for 608 inmates, the original expansion plan included 1,000 beds.

The new space will include an updated kitchen, laundry facilities, medical and mental health areas, inmate intake and release areas, staff support, administrative offices and a pretrial hearing area.

Work on the addition is expected to be completed by the summer of 2025.

“Truly and simply we’re overcrowded at the facility,” said County Administrator Mike Carballa at the groundbreaking. “We can’t just put up a no-vacancy sign. We have to house these folks.”

Stacey Jenkins, who became the county’s chief corrections officer when it took over the jail October 1, said there are other benefits with the project. By creating more room to better house inmates by category of accused offense, “it’s going to improve the safety of our staff.”

In addition, she said, “We wanted to enhance the vocational opportunities for our current inmate population” as well as increase other programs in the center and provide better medical and mental health care.

Additional parking is planned, along with upgraded security systems, a new security road around the exterior of the jail and new technology for the jail and any future buildings on the site.

Pasco County Commission chairperson Jack Mariano said he thought the community would be pleased to see the project underway.

“The voters spoke very clearly in the 2018 referendum,” he said. “They want to see this happen.”