Judge Halts Graterford Prison Expansion Bidding
(09/15/2010)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A wrench was thrown into the $365 million expansion of Graterford State Prison as a judge ordered a halt to the bidding process after contractors filed a lawsuit stating it violates Pennsylvania law.

In a preliminary ruling on August 31, Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued an injunction against the state’s Department of General Services and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. In his written ruling, Pellegrini stated that the Department of General Services had erred in limiting the list of prospective contractors to three contracting firms after the first phase of the bidding process. 

“Budgetary concerns or expediency do not give the department the right to ignore a legislative mandate," Pellegrini wrote in his opinion. "While granting a preliminary injunction may result in prisoners staying out of state a little longer (albeit, at no additional net cost to the commonwealth), it will harm the public more if we allow the department to willfully violate the law.”

In all, more than 25 contractors and subcontractor firms signed in at a pre-bid conference on July 15. The Department of General Services narrowed the pool of bidders down to six companies involving two joint ventures and a single firm: Walsh Construction & Heery Intl. JV; P.J. Dick, Inc. & Hunt Construction Group JV; and Keating Building Co. Scoring below third place in the bidding were Turner Construction Co. and a JV of W.G. Yates Construction and Tishman Construction, according to documents on the DGS website.

Diane Tokarsky, a construction attorney representing the builders that filed suit, says her clients were only interested in making sure that the DGS was following state law.

“We represent a group of contractors who are seeking to help the Commonwealth procure construction services in accordance with the Commonwealth’s laws,” Tokarsky says.

The attorney added that the contractors lawsuit is the second lawsuit since the project was announced. A lawsuit that addresses the issues of whether construction workers could utilize a project labor agreement is pending before the state Supreme Court, she says.

Tokarsky says the next move is up to the DGS, which in a September 15 bulletin extended the deadline to submit questions regarding cost submission to September 30. The deadline for cost and design-build submission to Thursday, October 14, at 2:00 p.m. The bulletin also provided an estimated letter of intent date of October 15.

The Graterford prison expansion is one of the largest projects currently under way in the United States. The project is slated to add 4,000 beds to the prison — located near Philadelphia —3,000 of which will replace existing beds at the prison.

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