Engineering report shows hefty price tag for WSP fixes

Photo taken from Martin/Martin report This photo included in an engineering report from Martin/Martin Wyoming shows damage in the Wyoming State Penitentiary as a result of slab-on-grade and foundation movement.

Photo taken from Martin/Martin report
This photo included in an engineering report from Martin/Martin Wyoming shows damage in the Wyoming State Penitentiary as a result of slab-on-grade and foundation movement.

By Chad Abshire

RAWLINS — A 284-page engineering report shed additional light on the construction mishaps at the Wyoming State Penitentiary, as well as revealed a price tag much higher than officials had previously given.

The report from Martin/Martin Wyoming, which was delayed by around two weeks and was originally due to the Legislative Task Force on Penal Facilities at the start of September, states “the estimated cost of the work varies from is $65,404,000 to $194,489,000, exclusive of contingencies and future construction cost escalation.”

The report listed prices and recommendations for four options Martin/Martin looked at: repair the South Facility, CPF and K Unit buildings; repair part of the South Facility and other buildings but rebuild housing pods at another location; Repair CPF and K Unit buildings and rebuild South Facility elsewhere; or rebuild the entire facility at another location.

Both Gov. Matt Mead and Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, have previously said they were leaning towards building the entire facility new.

"I'm very reluctant to spend $80 million repairing a prison that probably should not have been built in that place in the first instance," Mead said at an August news conference about the declining state budget.

Burkhart previously compared the failing 15-year-old prison to a 15-year-old truck that needed work.

“You either put work into fixing the transmission and engine or is it time to consider buying new?” Burkhart said. “I’m leaning towards it’s time to consider buying new.”

He also said that constructing a new prison avoids a “piecemealed” solution that doesn’t keep the entire facility together.

The 13-member task force is tentatively scheduled to make a decision regarding the report’s findings Oct. 5 in Rawlins. A location for that meeting has not yet been determined.


Rebuilding the entire Pen would cost a little more than $219 million, the report stated. The last figure offered by Burkhart hovered at around $170 million.

That $219 million price tag didn’t include the 17 percent contingency — an additional $38.3 million — for a new total of $257,392,000.

But that price could come down to just under $194.5 million “if the site selected for (rebuilding) is suitable for construction using shallow foundations and slabs-on-grade.”

Counting for a 17 percent contingency, that $194.5 million becomes $228.5 million.

Based on a March 2019 construction state date and assuming a 30-month construction schedule, construction costs were anticipated to escalate around 15.9 percent. Thus, Martin/Martin recommended somewhere between $30 million and $35 million be allocated to allow for escalation.

While a lower price is an easier pill to swallow, going slab-on-grade may be hard for the state to select. That’s because the reason the WSP is in the condition its currently in is because of slab-on-grade movement “and to a lesser degree foundation movement, (both) caused by unstable soil conditions,” the report stated.

However, mentions of movement occurring again at a new location with suitable soils for that type of construction weren’t in the report.

Slab-on-grade, or floating slab foundations, are a structural engineering practice where the concrete slab that serves as the foundation for the structure is formed from a mold set into the ground. The concrete is then placed into the mold, leaving no space between the ground and the structure.

According to the original geo-technical report presented to the task force during its June meeting, “The site (WSP now sits on) appears suitable for proposed construction,” but expansive bedrock and soils “will require particular attention in the design and construction.”

Other options

The price for repairing the South Facility, CPF and K Unit buildings at the Pen is listed as $65.4 million, not accounting for a contingency.

Work would include removing all slabs-on-grade throughout the facility to be replaced with “new 10-inch thick reinforced concrete structural concrete slabs constructed over 6-inch void spaces and supported on new 5-inch diameter micropiles.”

On top of that, each non-structural partition wall that is directly located on slab-on-grade would be demolished and reconstructed, the report stated. Additionally, all electrical, mechanical, security and other systems impacted by the removal and replacement of slabs-on-grade and partition walls would be replaced.

Soils at the South Facility would be re-graded beyond the sidewalks “for a minimum of 10 feet at a minimum slope of 2 percent away from the building,” the report stated.

For the options of repairing and rebuilding parts of the South Facility, either housing pods A, B and C or the entire building itself at another location, prices quickly begin to climb.

Depending on where rebuilds would take place for housing pods, prices range from $118.3 million to $147 million, exclusive of contingency and escalation costs. Relocating the entire facility has prices between $128.3 million to $159.4 million, also exclusive.

Any option that leaves portions of the current WSP operable recommends the development of a snow management plan “to ensure that snow storage is not occurring near building foundations or at locations where moisture from snowmelt flow toward the building.”

Location, location, location

Each option besides just repairing the existing Pen carries the acquisition of land as a requirement. Factors in that land included in the report are: size and shape of the land parcel, access to the land, distance from the center of the city, zoning and other restrictions, surrounding and adjacent land ownership and use, geological conditions, topography and more.

“State geologists recommend against building it any place in the county south of Interstate 80,” Burkhart said in a previous interview. “They also couldn’t recommend going much east of 789 or very west of it. That leaves a narrow band” to the north of Rawlins.

But that narrow band “pretty much rests on bedrock or has very good soils for construction,” Burkhart said.

The report says as much, stating “geotechnical conditions comprise the main reason this report is suggesting options to build offsite.”

“The state must find a potential new site with suitable soils to minimize or eliminate unacceptable building movement with more cost-effective foundation construction; otherwise, the State would be better served if any new construction remained on the present site, with a premium cost for the foundation and first floor construction, but with no land acquisition costs or infrastructure development,” the report stated.

Two locations were found by Martin/Martin as having “conditions favorable for construction of a new prison facility and that these conditions are significantly better that those at the existing facility.”

“The soils and bedrock are non-expansive and also do not collapse when wetted. The soils and bedrock are very dense and could support a shallow foundation system with design pressures of about 4000 psf,” the report stated. “Slab-on-grade construction is typically isolated from the foundation wall system; however, at this site, reinforced slabs connected to the grade beams may be a possibility to minimize slight differential movement at thresholds at entrances and barred security systems.”

Aerial mapping included in the report showed one recommended location between 6,000 and 9,000 feet west of 287N.


Burkhart previously mentioned that if the task force decides to take the new construction route, “we don’t want it to sit in or near a residential area or be visible from a school” and there would ideally be a half-mile, a quarter-mile minimum, buffer zone around the new facility with no sort of construction nearby.

The report stated for relocation of the South Facility, either part of it or the entire building, “the property would need to be an acceptable distance from the City of Rawlins out of concern for public safety, but not too distant as to make the commute for facility staff overly burdensome.”

“The distance between the existing facility and the new site should be reasonable as multiple daily trips between the two to deliver services, such as food, laundry and maintenance, is anticipated long-term,” the report stated.

The land “could be further restricted by its current zoning or allowable uses, potential developmental imposed restrictions due to environmental or habitat protections, and the ownership and use of the adjacent or surrounding property owners,” the report stated.

“Just as the state needs to protect its security by providing an adequate buffer for security to each property line, so too do adjacent property owners sometimes feel compelled to protect their land value by resisting construction of a correctional facility so close to their land and future plans for that land,” the report stated.

Any sort of land purchase would also need vehicular access to a “major highway adequately maintained and regularly cleared during inclement weather. The need for any deceleration, acceleration and/or turn lanes would need to be studied. A private, paved and lighted road from the highway would be required, its distance determined by the decision on how far from the highway the compound would need to be for security purposes and visual screening.”

Read the full report here.

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