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Prison relocation authority says 2015 too long to wait for bids

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County  Friday, March 8, 2013.
The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Now it's taking too long to potentially move the Utah State Prison, members of the state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority complained Wednesday.

"April 2015 ain't going to work. So I think we need to move this along," Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, told the consultant hired by the authority after hearing that would likely be as soon as a contract could be awarded to build a new prison.

While the authority has yet to decide whether to recommend the state relocate the aging prison to free up nearly 700 acres at Point of the Mountain for development, the plan earlier had been to seek bids for the project anyway.

But members voted in October to withdraw the request for bids after Gov. Gary Herbert declined to sign it, instead choosing to wait for the consultant's master plan to be finished next year.

Legislative leaders have since expressed frustration that not going forward with the bidding process while the move is being debated could end up making the project too costly as interest rates and construction costs rise.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said at Wednesday's meeting lawmakers are concerned that going forward with plans now to expand the state prison at Gunnison "puts moving Draper and building a new facility in jeopardy."

The governor's proposed budget includes $36 million to add about 180 beds to the Gunnison prison. Herbert said expanding the facility is a "no-brainer" because it's the cheapest way to increase prison capacity.

The authority's consultant, Brad Sassatelli of Texas-based MGT of America, said it's not yet clear that's the best move.

"It does make financial sense to add beds right now," Sassatelli said. "Long term, it has to be the appropriate mix."

Sassatelli said the authority should be able to make a decision on whether to make the move based on his preliminary report, expected by the end of January. A final report from MGT of America won't be done until June.

The consultant said readying a new request for bids to be issued in October 2014 and awarded in April 2015 is "an aggressive schedule" and said the project likely would be developed in phases and at multiple locations.

But Lane Summerhays, chairman of the authority, made it clear that timetable needs to be moved up.

Summerhays said the request for bids needs to be wrapped up in time for the 2015 Legislature. Legislative sessions begin in late January and last through the beginning of March.

Sassatelli is scheduled to present his preliminary findings at the next authority meeting on Jan. 24. He said the report will include a cost-benefit analysis of relocating the prison, as well as what to look for in a new prison site.

The report, expected to lay out a 20-year master plan for the state's prison system, will also take into consideration how much more bed space is available at county jails.

Ron Gordon, head of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the governor's liaison on the authority, said statutory and policy changes that could impact the need for prison bed space likely won't be ready until 2015.

The governor said in releasing his $13.3 billion budget last week that his administration wasn't just focused on whether to relocate the prison but also on taking what he called a "more holistic" approach to rehabilitation.


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