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Document listed fall 2015 occupancy date for new Iowa prison

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa's new, empty prison for male offenders wasn't expected to be fully operational until fall 2015, even before workers discovered the latest delay-causing design problem, a state contract document shows.

An extension signed by the Department of Corrections with a key contractor in June 2014 said occupancy for the $166 million maximum-security Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison would be "completed in the fall of 2015." At the time, workers were repairing a flawed geothermal heating and cooling system that had delayed the anticipated transfer last spring of 600 inmates from the old penitentiary that dates to 1839.
One month after the extension, a test showed the smoke evacuation systems in inmate housing units didn't work as planned and created a safety risk in the event of fire. Workers are still trying to bring those buildings up to fire code. They have completed the repairs to the heating and cooling system.

Department officials say they still don't know when inmates could move in, but that it could be later this year if things go well.

The fall 2015 occupancy estimate was a ballpark range that was meant to be overly conservative, said deputy director Brad Hier, who signed the contract. It no longer has relevance, given the discovery of the flawed smoke system, he said.

"We've been bitten so many times by things that have come up. We were trying to hedge," he said. "If anything was going to be listed from a planning perspective, we put it out further out than we ever thought it would be."

The fall 2015 estimate was included in a $97,000 contract amendment with Pulitzer/Bogard and Associates, a Lido Beach, New York, firm that has consulted on the project since 2008. The company was hired to help plan and design how the new penitentiary and a renovated women's prison in Mitchellville would function.

The cost of the firm's initial $942,000 six-year contract has more than doubled as both projects encountered delays, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law. The company has been paid $2.31 million to date and is expected to collect $50,000 more in coming months. Its contract could be extended later this year.

The firm's role has expanded repeatedly due to construction delays, fewer state employees working on the transition to the new buildings than envisioned and requests from the state for additional assistance, according to eight contract amendments. Turnover among state and project managers also resulted in "far greater participation" from the company in meetings than anticipated, records show.

An October 2012 contract amendment assumed that construction in Fort Madison would be completed by Dec. 31, 2012, "with full operations by July 1, 2013." But that date came and went, and a subsequent $160,000 contract amendment said the prison would "now not be fully operational until early 2014." Gov. Terry Branstad participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the prison in October 2013.

State officials have blamed the design problems on a now-bankrupt Dubuque architectural firm. One of Pulitzer/Bogard and Associates' roles was to help select and work closely with all of the architects and engineers on the project. Another was to work with the project management team to "consult on strategies that may be necessary to maintain the overall project schedule and budgets."

Hier said the firm has done "an outstanding job" and bears no responsibility for the problems.

Its principal on the project, Curtiss Pulitzer, travels to Iowa monthly to take part in meetings and is paid $185 per hour. Pulitzer, who has worked nationwide for 35 years on jail and prison projects, said Monday the problems were surprising, unusual and shouldn't have happened. But he said his company wasn't responsible for reviewing designs or overseeing construction.

"We had thought we had hired the best in the business between the architects, engineers and general contractor," he said.

He also defended the rising cost of his firm's work, saying it would be cheaper for taxpayers in the long run than permanently expanding corrections' administrative staff.

"When it's over, we're gone," he said.

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