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March 26. 2013 7:29PM

Public Works committee budget approves funds for new women's prison

CONCORD - The House Public Works and Highways Committee voted 19-1 Tuesday to send a capital budget to the House floor next week that approves borrowing for construction of a new women's prison, renovations of courthouses and construction of three new liquor stores.

The recommended budget bonds $124.2 million in general funds, about $5.2 million less than Gov. Maggie Hassan's proposal. It also bonds $13.2 million in highway funds and $30 million more in a collection of other funds.

The plan also leverages $50.8 million in federal funds, for total bonding over fiscal 2014 and 2015 of about $221.7 million.

Committee chairman David Campbell, D-Nashua, said he was proud that the committee was able to fund needs of the state while staying under the committee's goal of bonding no more than $125 million in general funds.

"We did a lot of heavy lifting on this committee," he said. "It was a good piece of work."

Final, formal committee approval of the capital budget plan is expected today after the final bill is printed. Campbell said the bill must be voted on by the full House by next Thursday, April 4.

The committee firmed up its unofficial approval of a new women's state prison to replace the aging facility in Goffstown, which has been the target of an inmate lawsuit over conditions and available medical and other services.

The panel agreed unanimously to bond $38 million for a 224-bed facility that would be expandable to 350 beds. The committee specified that the primary site for the new prison will be on state-owned land adjacent to the men's prison in Concord.

The committee had initially discussed the site of the former Laconia State School as a backup site if the Concord site proved unsuitable for building. But Tuesday it removed any reference to Laconia to avoid confusion and controversy, Campbell said, and instead specified that if an alternative site becomes necessary it would be up to the Department of Corrections to win approval from the Joint Legislative Capital Budget Overview Committee.

The bonding approval is also subject to use of the "construction management" method and a requirement that the design of the new building be presented by April 1, 2014.

No changes were made Tuesday to the committee's earlier informal approval of allowing the State Liquor Commission to autonomously bond $19.9 million to build new retail outlets in Salem, Epping and Warner and to renovate the stores on either side of Interstate 95 in Hampton.

The committee budget approves $13.5 million in Department of Education bonding to renovate the community technical college in Whitefield and $10.7 million to renovate the community technical college in Salem.

It approves $8 million in bonding for capital projects for the community college system and $7.5 million for capital projects for the state university system.

The capital budget also contains $2.15 million for facilities to house 10 psychiatric crisis beds at the New Hampshire Hospital.

The budget also approves bonding a total of $770,000 to replace the roof and the cooling tower at the Rockingham County Superior Court and $142,000 to replace the roof at the Lebanon District Court.

It allows bonding of $245,000 for a new roof on the Concord District Courthouse and $240,000 for repairs at the Coos County Courthouse.

It also allows $450,000 in bonding to replace the roof at the State House Annex and $330,000 to upgrade the Legislative Office Building elevator. It also allows borrowing $560,000 to modernize the voting system in the House of Representatives with new software and an LED display.

Rep. Virginia Irwin, D-Newport, objected to the committee's decision to allow $472,445 in bonding to repair the State House dome, including planned gold gilding.

"I can't gild the dome when it is being considered to deny seniors meals," through cuts in the Meals on Wheels program, Irwin said.

But committee members agreed that the capital budget was unrelated to the operating budget, where the Meals on Wheels program is funded.

"It's shameful if we don't take care of our capitol," said Rep. Wendy Piper, D-Enfield. "It's an issue of state pride. And it looks like crap right now."

The issue, however, prompted Irwin to be the lone committee vote against the overall budget.

The committee budget also approved the use of parking meter funds to continue the repair of the Hampton North Beach Seawall.

It allows bonding of $40,0000 for the construction of a monument commemorating the 400th anniversary of explorer John Smith's siting of the Isle of Shoals, to be placed at Ragged Neck in Rye State Park. Another $40,000 for the project would come from local or private fund-raising.

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