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Prison still in legislative limbo


   The Madras state prison project was still in legislative limbo as of the Feb. 15 meeting of the local prison advisory group.
   The Department of Corrections has been clear that they need a go-ahead on the $190 million project around the end of the month in order to meet construction deadlines, said Bobbi Burton, community development manager for the DOC.
   The department gave its case for the Madras prison to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety on Feb. 7. From there, it will go to the full committee, and then will have to be approved by the entire Legislature.
   The prison expansion project is one of several important spending decision the state faces, all while dealing with an estimated $1 billion shortfall compared to its last biennium. While prison populations are at a level where more beds are needed or will have to be rented, the state's budget situation makes new prison construction a tough decision.
   Getting a go-ahead on the project "is taking longer than expected," said Burton. Many new legislators are "not familiar with issues the department faces" and are having to be "brought up to speed."
   The department hoped to have approval early enough to have a ground-breaking in March. That now seems a longshot, said Burton.
   Burton would not venture to guess, at this point, whether the project would be approved or rejected. She noted that new Rep. John Dallum (R-The Dalles) was working very hard in support of the Madras prison.
   Meanwhile, work on the Madras prison continues. Jerry Jones, of Heery International, and Edward Trotter, of CH2MHill, both addressed the PAC. Their companies have contracted with the DOC to work on the prison, basically as go-betweens for the DOC and the contractors.
   Jones, the project manager, said he'd just gotten off a $97 million prison project in Florida, that Madras would be his 46th prison to work on, and that he planned to move to the community if the project is funded.
   The plan, said Jones, is to be "moving dirt" by April 1, and have infrastructure at the site by July 1, when construction of the 1,240-bed medium security facility would begin.
   "We definitely have to begin by April 1 to reach our deadlines," said Jones. "If it gets delayed, it will cost a lot more money." Material costs went up 14 percent in 2004, he added, and the massive construction occurring in China is pushing up the demand and costs on raw materials.
   Hoffman Construction Co., of Portland, has the contract for the infrastructure and the medium security facility. The 864-bed minimum security facility will be awarded at a later date.
   Chamber Director Parrish Van Wert, a PAC member, asked about local contractors' chances of working on the project. Trotter, the construction manager, noted that the prison project is "required to be open bid," and locals will have every opportunity to bid on projects.
   A pre-bid conference will be held in early to mid-May, said Trotter, who expected there to be between 250 and 300 people employed at the construction site.
   Van Wert noted that Hoffman Construction has sought, and been provided, lists of local property managers, real estate agencies and RV parks in preparation for the Madras project. Van Wert added listings of local contractors as well.
   If built, the prison complex is expected to employ about 500 people.
   
   The next meeting of the PAC is set for March 15. It is expected, or at least hoped, that the Legislature will have provided its yes or no by then.