KNOXVILLE (WATE)- Knox County leaders are making progress toward creating a public safety center.
The long-debated project would give police a place to take prisoners for mental health or drug evaluations, somewhere other than the county jail or the police department.
The Knox County Purchasing Department held a question and answer session Thursday for groups interested in developing and managing the proposed facility, but nobody spoke up.
The meeting wasn't mandatory, but Helen Ross McNabb was the only healthcare provider with representatives in attendance.
Many officials believe Helen Ross McNabb will be frontrunner to submit to a proposal before the February 20th deadline with the Knox County Purchasing Department.
The company says it's in the process of putting together a formal proposal for a proposed safety center.
6 News learned it would include a crisis stabilization unit with about 15 beds, an addiction service center with another half dozen beds and office space for mental health and substance abuse counselors.
"The essence of the proposal we'll put together is to try to put together services that make senses for people who need help at the moment of the time," said Jerry Vagnier, president of Helen Ross McNabb.
The county's guidelines for the center include 24-7 on-site staffing, a 24 hour jail diversion program and a 72 hour crisis stabilization unit.
"We believe there's going to be significant potential or for significant savings on diverting particularly these mentally ill people with high dollar costs out of the jail," said Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols.
Numbers obtained by 6 News show how many arrests in the last 3 months would be eligible for diversion to a safety center.
These include public intoxication and arrests relating to mental health. Since October 24, 2013 until February 6th, there have been 390 bookings leading to 1,173 days in jail in the county, according to data gathered by officials.
"They were higher than I thought anyway. I was a little shocked by the number," said Nichols.
As much as 25 percent of inmates in Knox County jails are considered severely or persistently mentally ill.
Fewer than 80 people account for 25 percent of the 4,000 arrests in Knox County for public intoxication.
One question remains as to where the safety center would be located.
Helen Ross McNabb says a good option could be a former church it acquired in June off Ball Camp Pike, which sits next to one its stabilization centers.
The company says another possibility is building a safety center next to its North Knoxville office.
"We certainly have other options to look. Now we got the RFP and know the county is looking for, we'll evaluate both properties," said Vagnier.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett didn't want to comment because the bid is still open.
The county budgeted $1 million for the facility In June, but Burchett previously told 6 News the county would only invest if the city and state also contribute.
The city of Knoxville hasn't committed to any funding, but a city spokesperson tells us the city has been involved in the discussions.
Bids will close on Feb. 20, and the winning bid is expected to be named Mar. 20.
The contract would run for 5 years and could be extended for two additional five year terms.
County Commission would need to approve any recommended bidder from the purchasing department.