FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Whip Bill DeWeese
DeWeese addresses DGS narrowing of prison location
HARRISBURG, Oct. 15 – State Rep. Bill DeWeese announced today that the state Department of General Services has narrowed the field for a new state prison in Fayette County to three sites, all located in Luzerne Township.
DGS Secretary James P. Creedon told DeWeese that after reviewing dozens of potential sites, the department winnowed the list to a half-dozen semifinalists, including two in German Township. Creedon said DGS concluded the German Township sites were unfeasible because they posed "significant challenges" to building a prison, including "irregular site layout" and up to $25 million in site preparation costs -- money that would have to be subtracted from the $200 million budgeted for the facility.
Creedon said the physical configuration of the German Township sites – the 209-acre Bukovitz site near Footedale and the 204-acre Tiberi site near Edenborn -- did not make them acceptable choices for the prefabricated design/build concept that DGS plans to use to expedite construction of the facility estimated to create 700 permanent jobs.
"Both of the sites in German Township pose significant challenges as a site for the correctional facility," Creedon wrote in a letter to DeWeese. "The 209-acre Bukovitz (site) barely satisfies the minimum of 200 acres to even be considered for a correctional facility. The site also has a very irregular layout, which seriously complicates the ability to configure a safe prison layout with proper site lines and the necessary significant buffer. In addition, the site lacks enough additional space to permit expansion if that would be required in the future. Consequently, this site does not meet that requirement and has been removed from consideration."
Regarding the 204-acre Tiberi site, Creedon wrote it "also has an irregular site layout, complicated by the presence of high voltage electric lines and high pressure gas lines. In addition, the Tiberi site has significant constraints that will add as much as $25 million to the project costs. The site will need to be completely re-graded, water and sewer will need to be brought to the site, the natural gas and electrical lines will need to be relocated and potential wetlands issues would need to be studied." Creedon added: "The project budget does not allow for expenditure of over 10 percent of the budget on site preparation alone. For those reasons, it is not in the best interest of the taxpayers to continue to evaluate this site."
DeWeese said although he wishes one of the two sites would have panned out, he was pleased that Creedon acknowledged that DGS focused on German Township sites at DeWeese’s suggestion.
"Make no mistake: I understand and share the disappointment of those who preferred that this new prison be built in the 50th District slice of German Township," said DeWeese, D-Greene/Fayette/Washington. "During every meeting with DGS officials, I urged them to take a strong look at the German Township sites before ruling any of them out. I wanted no stone left unturned in their effort. I wanted this facility in German Township."
DeWeese said that ultimately the decision rests with DGS, which has a well-established criteria list that takes into account site topography and configuration, as it relates to security needs, as well as cost considerations. He said locating the prison in an adjacent township in the 50th District – possibly a few thousand yards from the German Township line – is preferable to letting the project wane.
In these tight budgetary times, DeWeese said he did not want to see the Fayette prison project meet the same fate as the planned State Correctional Institution at Benner Township, in Centre County, which DGS has put on hold because bids came in higher than what was budgeted. In a recent meeting with DeWeese, Creedon described the high Benner bids as a "budget buster."
DeWeese said the three Luzerne Township sites remaining as finalists for the Fayette prison are all located in the 50th District, and he believes most area residents will see that the area’s greater economic needs are served by getting the project under way as soon as possible.
"The good news is that the project remains on track and it will add 700 family-sustaining, recession-proof jobs to the local economy. In this tough economic climate, it is imperative to stick within the allotted $200 million budget for building a new prison," DeWeese said. "DGS has a responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars, while also ensuring public safety; and I urge everyone to respect the decisions made by Secretary Creedon in those regards."
DeWeese added that while he sympathizes with those who are upset that no German Township sites were ruled suitable, most people understand that the checklist process for prison sites is extensive and not all sites qualify.
"Secretary Creedon’s decision has been criticized by some of my friends," DeWeese said. "However, it would be an outrage to expend millions of dollars in precious state funds – perhaps putting the entire project in jeopardy – when alternate sites are readily available without that added expense. Our primary goals should be public safety and putting people to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, not crossing swords with the DGS."
Creedon said the next step for DGS will be to perform subsoil testing on the three Luzerne Township sites to determine their continued viability. He said he expects the site selection process to continue into early 2010, and hopes to receive construction proposals that spring with construction starting that summer.