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March 25. 2013 10:36PM

House committee informally OKs funds for a new women's prison

CONCORD - A key House committee Monday informally agreed to include $38 million in the state's capital budget for the construction of a new women's prison near the men's prison in Concord.

If the Concord site proves unacceptable after testing, then the prison would be built on the site of the former Laconia State School.

The House Public Works and Highways Committee will vote on the project and full capital budget on Tuesday and send the plan to the House floor, said Chairman Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua.

The committee also informally agreed to allow the State Liquor Commission to bond $19.9 million for the construction of new retail stores in Salem, Epping and Warner and to renovate the northbound and southbound stores on Interstate 95 in Hampton.

Gov. Maggie Hassan had included both requests in her $130 million capital budget, which includes funding for construction projects and physical improvements to facilities.

Campbell said the committee agreed to place the full $38 million Hassan request in the capital budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015 rather that spread out the expenditure over two two-year budget cycles. He said the committee wants to move as quickly as possible because "we don't want the court running the women's prison."

Inmates at the current women's prison in Goffstown have sued the state over the conditions there, alleging the prison does not allow women to receive the same services or participate in the same programs as inmates in the men's prisons in Concord and Berlin.

Men at the state prison in Concord have access to medical care at all times, while in Goffstown there is no backup to the infirmary nurse, according to supporters of the lawsuit.

Inmate advocates have said that at Concord, a mental health staff provides consistent care for male inmates with structured group treatment and activities, crisis intervention and a special unit for the mentally ill, while similar services are not available in Goffstown.

The Department of Corrections has said that if the women's prison is built near the men's prison, resources, personnel and services could be shared.

Campbell said the committee informally agreed to the $38 million in funding as long as the project goes forward on a "construction management" basis, with the department reporting back to the 10-member joint House-Senate Capital Budget Overview Committee in nine months and then on a quarterly basis.

He said the new facility will be built with a 224-prisoner capacity, but must be "expandable."

Hassan said in her budget address in February: "For too long, our corrections system has woefully neglected women." She said the new prison is necessary "to ensure justice and to improve our public safety."

Liquor stores

On the liquor commission request, some committee members questioned the need for all three stores. But supporters said a new store off Exit 9 in Interstate 89 in Warner would be situated at the "gateway" to the Lake Sunapee region. The Epping store would be located near a new shopping plaza in a busy area near Route 101.

Campbell said the commission's recently completed stores have had a record of paying for themselves over the course of a few years or even a single year, as was the case in Nashua, he said. He said the new stores have brought in new business and revenue and have not "cannibalized" sales at other stores.

The commission has told the House committee that the new Salem store would be 20,000 square feet, nearly twice the size of the current Salem store. Construction would cost $5.4 million.

Each Hampton store would be renovated and expanded by 5,000 square feet, for a total cost of $6.3 million, the commission says.

New 10,000-square-foot stores in Epping and Warner would cost $3.8 million and $3.5 million respectively.

All new stores and the renovations would be completed in 2016, and would pay for themselves in between four and five years, the commission says.


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