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New Washington Prison Needs Major Repairs

Washington's newest prison, Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC), constructed in 1993 at a cost of $113 million, was originally slated to open in November, 1993, but the Washington DOC decided to delay opening the prison for nearly a year in order to save money in operating costs. [See: "Airway Heights Opens," PLN Vol. 5 No. 9] It now appears that the decision to delay opening AHCC is at least partly responsible for a multi-million dollar boondoggle.

The 1996 Washington legislature allocated $5.3 million for emergency cooling and heating system repairs for AHCC. Less than a year after the medium-security portion of the prison opened, DOC staff discovered that sections of the prison were without cool air. The problem with the chilled air system stems from faulty pipes buried 12 feet underground. The lines, about 4,600 feet long, deliver water used to cool and heat prison buildings.

A preliminary analysis of the system failures conducted by state engineers suggests that design and installation errors are the cause of the leaking pipes. "We think it's a chronic, system wide problem, not just a few mistakes here and there," said DOC's chief engineer Bill Phillips. DOC engineering budget director John Adsit said the installed pipes are so faulty that the entire system needs to be replaced. 'We want this to last 30 years like it's supposed to, not just have a short term fix," Adsit said.

Washington state officials originally asked Kitchell Construction of Phoenix, which installed the water lines, to make full repairs. Representatives of the construction firm, however, deny responsibility, pointing out that the systems were accepted by the DOC in June of 1993 and were under warranty until June, 1994.

DOC engineers recently unveiled a plan to install a new system, using prison labor for much of the work. Between 40 and 100 AHCC prisoners will be paid $1 an hour to dig trenches 4,600 feet long and six feet wide. The state will hire 15 crew supervisors who will earn $55,000 to $60,000 per year, though the project should only run for six months, said Pat Davis, the project's construction manager.

The new pipes will be buried only 2-3 feet underground. After prisoners dig trenches and pour concrete, outside contractors will install the cooling and heating lines. By doing most of the work "in house" and utilizing prisoner labor, DOC estimates the total cost to be around $3.6 million.

There is some concern about whether the new pipes, only 2-3 feet deep, might freeze in cold winters. DOC engineers are confident that the concrete liners, plus a layer of rock beneath the concrete box, will keep the lines from freezing. If the new system fails, at least the DOC will have nobody to blame but themselves. But since it was their decision to delay opening the prison until after the warranty period ran out, in order to of save money, who is really to blame for the first system's failure?

Source: Spokane Spokesman Review

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