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‘Two-way conversation’ sought on women’s prison in Concord

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 09. 2014 9:49PM

CONCORD — The state has a design firm and a construction manager for the new women’s prison, but state officials say the design is not a done deal.

The first of the three stakeholder meetings is tonight, with state and city representatives invited to look at the architectural firm’s sketches and provide input for the final design of the 224-bed prison, which is to be sited behind the men’s prison on North State Street.

Tonight’s meeting is at 6 at New Hampshire Health and Human Services, Brown Building Auditorium, 129 Pleasant St. Other meetings, set for March 12 and 19, are for agencies, organizations and people who work with, or on behalf of, prisoners, as well as abutters.

“It’s a two-way conversation,” said Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services.

He said there has already been a meeting with abutters particularly concerned about noise and traffic.

“We’ve already been able to make some changes” as a result of those concerns, he said.

The Executive Council approved a $2.4 million design contract with SMRT Inc. of Portland, Maine, last September. In January, it approved the selection of Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane Inc. as construction manager.

When the design is finalized, Gilbane will be responsible for seeking bids and selecting contractors for various aspects of the project. The company will also be charged with ensuring the project comes in on budget. The authorized figure is $38 million.

“We’ve established what the basic footprint would be,” Assistant Corrections Commissioner William McGonagle said. It hasn’t been determined whether it will be a single building or more than one.

Connor said there is some granite on the site, so costs of extending utilities won’t be known until a level pad is prepared this summer. The plan is to have the site work done by fall, so construction can continue through the winter.

McGonagle said the state typically has a design done and then puts it out to bid, or hires one firm to do both design and construction. For this project, he said, the state has opted to have the architectural firm and construction manager work together with the state so the building is “within our budget and deliverable.”

By late summer, he said, the state will have the price for which the project can be done.

The architectural firm selected to design the new women’s prison was the architect for the Grafton, Merrimack and Cheshire county jails, as well as the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin. SMRT points to its design of the Women’s Center at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham as proof it understands the special needs of a prison for women.In 2012, a lawsuit was filed by New Hampshire Legal Assistance on behalf of four women citing the Goffstown facility’s overcrowding and lack of services.

“We need to satisfy the needs of the class action suit,” McGonagle said.

The lawsuit, now on hold pending construction of the new women’s prison, said women do not receive the same services, counseling and work opportunities as men in the Concord and Berlin prisons.

The lawsuit was filed 25 years after the U.S. District Court ordered the state to establish a women’s prison in New Hampshire. Until that decision, Fiandaca v Cunningham, which was filed in 1983, the state sent female prisoners out of state.

By siting the women’s prison behind the men’s prison, officials say there should be economies achieved by sharing some services.

But even more important, McGonagle said: “We have really high hopes for rehabilitative work.”

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