Receivership Update: Major Challenges Outlined at SF Meeting
(12/04/2009)

SAN FRANCISCO — A who’s who of California prison architects and construction managers filled the downtown headquarters of architectural firm HOK for an update on the federal receiver’s plan to add several thousand medical beds and other services to the state prison system.

Nearly 40 people from a variety of firms attended the event, organized by the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

An integrated project delivery method, executed by co-operative design and construction teams that are working on prototype facilities, is being used for the construction plan, which is expected to cost $8 billion and add 10,000 medical beds to the prison system.

The first of several projects is expected to begin between March and July, and planners are aiming for the admittedly ambitious goal of completing the project within five years.

Dick Engler, a consultant who is working with the receivership and has experience with four federal intervention programs with corrections departments, says the project has caught the attention of corrections officials from around the world.

“We are being watched, and we are looking for lots of success,” Engler says.

To achieve the receiver’s goals, a perfect storm of variables must be addressed. Bill Proctor, program director of the URS/Bovis Lend Lease joint venture that is managing the project, outlined several key factors at the meeting that could affect the scope and schedule of the project:

• Location. Ideally, seven new facilities with approximately 1,500 beds would be located on 80 acres at existing urban facilities that can support a variety medical services on site or in the surrounding community, Proctor says. The problem: Most of the state’s prisons are in rural areas, and if urban facilities have 80 acres of land, usually there is a problem with the land that makes construction more difficult or impossible.

The receivership is initially focusing plans on three potential sites — Folsom, Stockton and San Diego — and plans could be reduced to 60 acres to fit restricted sites. Other potential sites include Vacaville, Tracy, Camarillo, Wittier and Chino.

• California Environmental Quality Act. The federal judge who initiated the receivership did not waive the requirement for projects to comply with CEQA, which requires a time commitment.

• Infrastructure. Infrastructure systems at California’s prisons that were build in the 1980s are in bad shape, and facilities that were built before the 1980s are even worse, according to Proctor. Some facilities are in partnerships with surrounding municipalities, which would require new projects to enter another round of potentially difficult negotiations. The bottom line: Existing infrastructure problems must be fixed before any new construction work starts.

• Facilities. Many of the medical services proposed by the receiver have never been provided by the state prison system, and the scope of those new services is still being planned. Designers are working on a prototype without knowing exactly what treatments and services the facilities will accommodate.

• Construction Delivery. Design-bid-build and other construction delivery methods won’t work for a construction plan of this size and scope, according to Proctor. A unique collaborative process was developed among several design and construction teams to create a prototype for new facilities and push the fast-track construction process forward.

“We’ve asked everyone to come together and work in harmony to come up with a prototype,” Proctor says.

So far, the effort has exceeded “wildest hopes and expectations,” even though, outside of this project the team members work in highly competitive markets, proctor says.

• Funding. State officials were playing ball with the receivership until the bond market went sour and state budget negotiations went into unprecedented turmoil with a deficit of nearly $15 billion. Now all bets are off with state politicians for an immediate funds request and the receivership is facing the California Attorney General Jerry Brown in court.

Brown issued a stay for the receivership’s request for $250 million from AB 900 funds, the state legislation that provides billions of dollars for state-planned improvements to the prison system. The receivership is in negotiations with the governor and legislature for the remaining funds needed for the projects.

In addition, during early planning, the receivership realized that the new services and facilities would be best managed with a new agency. While architectural and construction team members are working to find brick-and-mortar solutions, the receivership is creating the framework for a new agency that will employ 12,000 people who will provide treatment and services that currently do not exist in the prison system, according to Proctor.

A second meeting to discuss the receivership is scheduled for Jan. 28 at the San Francisco AIA offices, and will focus on the lean-management approach that is being created for the new facilities and services, and other issues involved with the project.

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