Fast-Track Construction in the Face of State Budget Cuts

Article excerpt

As corrections officials around the country prepared for new legislative sessions in January, a common challenge awaited most--meeting increased correctional capacity needs with limited or shrinking resources. The industry faces state budget crises, growing inmate populations and dilapidated facilities. Prisons have to be built to meet growing demands, but the traditional construction method is outdated and costly. A new method growing within the private sector may provide the solution.

Using the traditional method, by the time a new facility becomes operational, the need for beds has often already outgrown the added capacity. On average, it can take as long as five years or more for a new prison to be planned, designed and constructed. Clearly, a more efficient method of prison and jail construction would reduce capital costs and relieve crowded conditions more rapidly, leading to additional cost savings.

Fast-track construction provides cost savings, as well as relief from crowded prisons. Briefly stated, fast-track construction accelerates the building of facilities by implementing design and construction phases simultaneously. Developing the site's foundation and obtaining equipment begins before the design of the entire facility is complete. After the foundation is laid, design of some portions of the project may run as little as a week ahead of construction. Although some design decisions are made in the field, it is a risk that historically has paid off in cost and time savings.

Fast-Track Construction Method in Brief

The process depends heavily on the coordination and balance between the architect and the contractor, and the client or owner. The contractor and the architect collaborate on the design of the facility from the beginning so that construction can begin immediately. During construction, each team member is empowered to make decisions. The method reduces the paper trail of change order forms and allows construction to progress without needless stopping for a committee's decision.

With fast-track construction, the 340,000-square foot, 1,600-bed Florence Correctional Center in Arizona was built in 11 months. With the traditional method, it could have taken up to 50 percent longer, according to Corrections Corporation of America's design and construction team.

Downfalls of Traditional Construction Methods

The traditional, sequential construction is used most by the public sector and is slow and costly. Instead of contractors and architects working together from the beginning, the architects design the facility independently of the contractor, who peruses the plans only after the design is complete. "This results in a completely delineated set of building plans," says Joseph F. Haines, American Institute of Architects senior principal and justice market sector leader for the architectural firm DLR Group. "The design team must take the time to complete all building blueprints necessary to construct the project before any construction begins."


After the contractor makes his or her changes to the plans, the equipment can be ordered and construction can begin. Custom equipment, which can take a long time to be fabricated and shipped to the building site, further postpones construction if it is not ordered early. In addition, changes to orders and disputes can slow the construction progress while the contractor, the owner and the architect negotiate their issues. Meanwhile, the cost of materials rises and the owner waits on a half-built building without any return on the investment.

The traditional method augments crowded conditions by slowing the construction of new prisons. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, among adult prison systems nationwide, at year-end 2001, the federal prison system was operating at 31 percent above capacity, while state prisons were operating (depending on capacity definition applied) between 1 percent and 16 percent above capacity. …