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Rushing construction of prison cost $193K

Correction Officer Dustin Wallace works in the master control room at the new York County Prison in York. A cell and a dorm in the new prison are pictured below. The prison will help alleviate overcrowding at the county detention center.
Correction Officer Dustin Wallace works in the master control room at the new York County Prison in York. A cell and a dorm in the new prison are pictured below. The prison will help alleviate overcrowding at the county detention center.

YORK -- York County's recently opened prison marks a major step toward alleviating the severe overcrowding at the county jail, officials said.

But the price of the new prison is about $193,000 higher than officials expected, partly because of mistakes made by rushed county staff.

Twice, the staff had to ask county leaders to approve additional money for constructing the minimum security prison, which houses county and state inmates who have been sentenced. Pre-trial inmates are housed at the county detention center, a separate facility commonly called the jail.

The prison is the first in a series of projects that will provide much needed holding space, said York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, who has called the jail overcrowding "a lawsuit waiting to happen."

The jail has 319 beds, but in August as many as 493 people were housed there. Inmates without beds sleep on mattresses or cots.

But with prison inmates moved from the old prison to the new one last month, the county is planning to renovate the older site to hold jail inmates.

"We're excited about the possibility of them getting the old prison fixed for us to start with," Bryant said.

The move will add nearly 100 beds to the jail, followed by an expansion of the detention center that could bring more than 130 beds.

But getting the prison built so quickly had a cost.

That's what county engineer Mark Kettlewell told the County Council on Nov. 17 when he asked leaders to spend an extra $75,000 to cover some last-minute upgrades to the prison.

Oversights by county staff and the architect handling to project are to blame, Kettlewell said, though he noted that the urgency to construct the jail -- it took just more than a year to design and build -- played a role in the errors.

Kettlewell also said the extra money added less than 3 percent to the original $7.9 million bid, "which is pretty good for a fast-paced project like that."

But some council members, particularly Curwood Chappell, were disappointed with the request.

"I've fired people for making a $25 mistake, much less a $75,000 mistake," he told Kettlewell. "So be careful, sir, and ... give us a complete run-up of what we're going to be bidding on so we'll know what it's going to cost us in the beginning. You do that on most cases."

About $118,000 of extra money was needed to pay for cleaning up landfill trash that was discovered on the site while workers were digging the prison's foundation, Kettlewell said.

Because early soil probes didn't turn up any trash, he said, the cleanup wasn't covered in original agreement.

Another change in plans was a recommendation by state inspectors.

The county wanted to paint a concrete wall behind the sinks where inmates' dishes are washed. However, state health officials said a smoother surface would be better. They warned that water splashing on the wall, filling crevices in the concrete, could possibly cause mold problems.

Installing stainless steel behind the sinks added about $4,000 to the project.

But some changes were just details that county engineers had overlooked, such as cabling for a data network and a telephone system that Kettlewell mistakenly thought were covered in the contract. That added about $31,000.

It's "very, very difficult on projects that size to catch ... every little thing," he said.

Chappell aside, other council members seemed more understanding of the errors.

Councilman Joe Cox commended Kettlewell and his staff for the work, noting the percentage added was small.

Councilman Rick Lee said that because of the need for the prison, scheduling was the top priority. He also pointed out that large projects can take more than a year just to design.

Even Councilman Tom Smith, who has echoed some of Chappell's criticisms, acknowledged that the rush to build the prison played a role in the errors.

"We can learn from our mistakes and look for stuff like this in the next go 'round," he said. "At least we're not paying any consultant to tell us that they missed it."

By the numbers

$7.9 million: Bid to build the prison

$193,000: Additional costs

256: Beds at the prison

20: Employees working during each shift at the prison

50,268: Square feet of space

319: Beds at the York County Detention Center

461: Average daily population at the center in August

553: Beds at the center after it’s renovated

— York County staff

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