North Dakota Workers make progress on penitentiary expansion

By Jenny Michael

Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- As a long, cold winter turned to a wet spring, spring to a wet, flooded summer and summer to a pleasant, warm fall, one constant has remained on the east side of Bismarck -- contractors have been steadily plugging away at the $64 million expansion and renovation project at the North Dakota State Penitentiary.

Soon, the prison's new look will begin to take shape as a South Carolina company hauls in precast concrete detention cells.

"Hopefully, by the end of November, you're going to see a prison that looks a lot like what it will look like when it's completed in December 2012," said Dick Frohlich, director of plant services for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. After the construction is completed in 2012, Frohlich estimates demolition and building new fences will take about six months, meaning the entire project should be done by July 2013.

After years of discussion about the state of the State Penitentiary, the 2009 North Dakota Legislature passed a bill to build a $64 million expansion and renovation of the facility, parts of which were considered outdated and unsafe for prison staff. The prison construction project includes a new medical facility, larger administrative segregation and orientation areas and a new general population area.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began putting out five packages of work on bids in May 2010. The bids came back at approximately $53 million, with an additional $10 million reserved for permits and other "soft costs" of construction, meaning the project is expected to be completed $1 million under budget.

So far, three of the five bid packages have been completed, with a fourth set to be done sometime in November. The fifth package, the biggest and by far the most expensive piece of the project, won't be completed until mid-2013, Frohlich said.

Construction crews completed a new warehouse outside the secure perimeter of the prison, along with a guard tower, fence expansion, new parking lots and roads and utility work in April. Crews already had finished reroofing some existing buildings in the fall of 2010.

As soon as the winter weather allowed, contractors began working on the biggest piece of the prison project: a new administration building, foundations for new orientation, general population and administrative segregation units, new medical facilities, new utility tunnels and some remodeling work on existing buildings.

Frohlich said the work is moving along appropriately; construction is neither ahead nor behind schedule. The late spring snow and wet summer that followed didn't slow the project down too much.

"We're happy with where we are," he said.

Concrete footings are in place so that precast concrete detention cells can be set down on them to form the new orientation, general population and administrative segregation units. Tindall Corp. of Spartanburg, S.C., is constructing the new cells, something no company in North Dakota does. Frohlich said the cells should be arriving by train in the next few weeks, then will be stored until a crew arrives from South Carolina to put them in place.

By the end of November, the new structures should be in place, and work can be done inside them. Frohlich said Roughrider Industries, the prison workshop, will build the steel furniture for inside the buildings.

Most of the work being done inside the prison grounds is on the medical unit, Frohlich said.

"This doesn't look like much now, but we're pleased with it," he said about the precast concrete walls.

Other than the new administration building, most of the work being done right now can be seen from Bismarck Expressway. A staging area for the contractors and supplies has been set up on the east side of the prison, where a secure entrance to the prison grounds monitors who goes in and out of the construction zone.

"We're very happy with the work," Frohlich said.

All workers who go on the prison grounds have to pass background checks. The area of the grounds currently used for prisoners and the construction zone are separated by a double fence with razor wire, so the contractors don't have to interact with prisoners and the prisoners don't have to be moved out of the way of the construction.

The new administration building, which will house the DOCR administrative offices, information technology department and pharmacy, is going up on the west side of the prison grounds. The building will be the point of entry for employees and visitors going to the prison, and a connecting corridor to the existing prison buildings will be added on after the building is complete. Prisoners will be brought into the prison through a south entrance to limit contact with the public.

Frohlich said the building should be in use by August 2012. The old, four-story administration building will be torn down after the new building is up and in use, as will the warden's house and the prison's east cell house.

"If anything is ahead of schedule, this (administration) building is," he said.

Published: Thu, Oct 20, 2011

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