Nine Steps to a Successful Prison Construction Project

By Piotrowski, Richard; McQuade, Daniel P. | Corrections Today, July 1993 | Go to article overview
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Nine Steps to a Successful Prison Construction Project


Piotrowski, Richard, McQuade, Daniel P., Corrections Today


The success or failure of a prison construction project often is decided before the first shovel breaks ground. The principal determining factor, as with every type of endeavor, is how meticulously it is planned.

The preconstruction process is particularly critical in prison construction because of diversified building requirements, integration of complex security equipment and the often accelerated schedules mandated by court order. Working closely with an agency, the construction management and architectural/engineering teams analyze every aspect of the design to ensure that it meets the project's planned objectives, while devising ways to save the agency time and money. Preconstruction is so integral to the construction of a correctional facility that if the project team fulfills every one of its functions, the success of the effort can be assured from the outset.

To illustrate the nine most important services that comprise the preconstruction process, we will use as an example the construction of the Women's Correctional Facility in Niantic, Conn., a multiple classification facility that is tripling its capacity while saving millions of dollars and eight months in construction time by employing these methods.

Currently 14 percent under budget, the three-phase, $55 million project is adding 18 buildings totaling 390,000 square feet to the existing complex. The effort includes construction of a 700-bed facility in three dormitory buildings; recreational, dining, laundry and kitchen facilities; prison industry work spaces; classroom areas; an administration and visitation center; and a medical and psychiatric center. The facility will be completed in the fall.

1. Analyze design for constructability and project delivery. Throughout the preconstruction process, the project team members must think through the entire project in their minds and on paper hundreds of times before construction begins. They must consider every possible obstacle, such as the probability of severe winter weather or potential delays caused by the unavailability of a specific type of building material. Each possible scenario is explored and plans are made to mitigate any problems.

For the Connecticut facility, the team explored using precast concrete cells vs. standard masonry construction and examined the benefits of employing one general contractor vs. multiple prime contractors. The construction manager also used a sitework package that allowed workers to complete sitework and nearly all foundations during the time the design was being finalized, cutting eight months off the schedule.

Analyzing a prison design in terms of security issues is one of the preconstruction team's most important functions. It is a natural tendency when designing a correctional facility to err on the side of safety, thus employing an excessive amount of barriers and detention hardware that may be a waste of money and may even interfere with correctional operations.

2. Work with the design team and owner. Bringing the construction management team onto the project from its inception creates a team mentality. It allows a free exchange of ideas while the design is still in its conceptual phase and throughout the various stages of design drawings, without creating an adversarial relationship between the architectural/engineering team and the construction team. Before work has begun, design alterations or material substitutions can be more easily incorporated without causing delays or incurring additional costs. Moreover, this early analysis often results in critical time and money savings.

This policy of open dialogue among team members was particularly effective during the Niantic project's planning stages because the facility's unusual security requirements demanded an especially creative approach. Inmates at the complex currently are housed in small "cottages" located on an open campus (without a perimeter fence) set on the natural countryside.

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