Goose Creek Correctional Center, benefits inmates, Valley workforce.

News Source: The Alaska Contractor
Publish Date: July 06, 2011

Goose Creek Correctional Center

One of Alaska’s largest construction projects benefits inmates, Valley workforce

By Rindi White


Goose Creek Correctional Center, the state’s largest prison and one of the largest construction projects in Alaska history, is less than a year away from housing inmates.

The prison recently came under fi re during state budget discussions, but the Legislature included the full $3.6 million in operating funding that Gov. Sean Parnell requested in its final state capital budget. Mat-Su Borough officials said they were thankful to Parnell and Valley elected officials for their hard work to finance the project.

“Goose Creek … will help bring home 1,000 Alaska inmates who are in Colorado. Inmates are less likely to cost the state more money by reoffending if we bring inmates closer to their families and take advantage of the dedicated space for rehabilitation programs at the new prison,” Mat-Su Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said in a press release following the passage of the state capital budget.

Mat-Su Borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan called the prison “a good project (that’s) ahead of schedule and within budget,” two achievements that are somewhat unusual for a complex $240 million project.

“This is one of the largest vertical construction projects that’s ever taken place in Alaska. It’s like building an entire university campus at once,” borough purchasing officer Russ Krafft stated in a borough project update.

Partnership fostered project success

The borough owns the prison, which is being built on a 330-acre tract in the sparsely populated Point MacKenzie area south of Wasilla. When it opens, the medium-security prison will house as many as 1,536 male inmates. The facility will effectively double the number of beds in the state corrections system.

Employees from the borough and the state Department of Corrections are overseeing construction. The state has agreed to lease the facility for 25 years, at which time the state will own the prison.

Neeser Construction Inc., owned by Gerald Neeser, was chosen as the design-builder. Neeser project manager Neil Bhargava is managing the project. By contract, the prison must be complete by Dec. 15, but Neeser representative George Tuckness said it’s on schedule to be finished by Sept. 1.

Tuckness said the project has gone well in part because the borough and the state took an active role in overseeing construction.

“They stayed involved in the designbuild process,” Tuckness said.

“Tens of thousands of hours were put forth by the design-build team under the watchful eye of the Department of Corrections, who set up offices on site to oversee the project. It was the most mutually beneficial process in Alaska history; a successful attempt was made to meet the concerns of each of the stakeholders,” he said.

Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt said he is pleased the process has gone so smoothly.

“The partnership with Neeser and the borough has been great. Any changes needed have been quickly addressed,” he said.

Creating a secure campus

The project is huge, one of the largest state-owned facilities in Alaska. It consists of five buildings in a campus like setting on 86 acres within the larger tract of land. The buildings total 435,583 square feet.

The largest building is a general housing and recreation space, a 194,000-square-foot building that contains five housing units and a 20,932-square-foot recreation area. That building will house 1,280 inmates, the bulk of the prison’s 1,536 capacity.

A 176,000-square-foot support services building will house facility administrators, a visitation area, a medical infirmary, 120 segregation cells, a kitchen and three dining halls, a central plant room, laundry, maintenance shops, and vocational and educational areas.

Schmidt said vocational education and visitation are two areas he hopes will help reduce repeat offenses by prisoners who pass through Goose Creek. His research shows prisoners have a better chance staying out of prison when they are able to stay connected to their families and community while incarcerated, Schmidt said.

At any prison, safety and security are a primary concern. Goose Creek includes a 24,690-square-foot three story steel building with an elevated master control room where officers can quickly scan the prison’s roofs and landscape. And a 16,442-square-foot steel warehouse will contain a 14-day supply of essentials, allowing the facility to be self-sufficient for at least two weeks.

Its rural location means transportation is essential. The facility includes a 24,077-square-foot vehicle maintenance and storage area that also has a wash bay and generator room.

Wrapping things up

Tuckness said construction is substantially complete on all buildings except the general housing and recreation building, which is about 70 percent complete. Workers are finishing interior spaces, landscaping and making sure everything is in working order.

Neeser isn’t responsible for providing utilities to the site; Valley Utilities LLC was selected to design, build and partially finance sewer and water service. A spring borough update stated that construction of the well field, pipeline, water plant and wastewater plant were about 65 percent complete and on schedule.

The project faced a few challenges along the way. Tuckness noted that construction started on forested land two years ago. The relatively remote location of the site—it’s nearly a two-hour drive to Anchorage—led Neeser to provide housing for key personnel such as project superintendents, managers and foremen. The company bought or leased apartments and condominiums near the site for those employees, he said, and had a small city of work trailers on site for offices.

Employment a key benefit for borough now and in future

By the time the project wraps up, between 500 and 1,000 people will have worked on it, Tuckness said. Crew sizes varied according to the phase of construction but on some days as many as 300 employees were working at the site, he said.

“When the nation was experiencing a downturn, we had $100 million of construction dollars in payroll, and almost all of it local hire,” Sullivan said.

Mat-Su Borough officials said 93 percent of the employees working on the prison live in Mat-Su.

“We hope the long-term staffing will be similar,” said Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Cindy Bettine.

Ramping up for occupancy

Commissioner Schmidt said the $3.6 million in operational funding would allow his department to debut the facility with a small group of minimum-security inmates and a small pool of employees next spring, probably in mid-March.

Schmidt said the group of inmates will move from one housing unit to another, under the guidance of correctional officers, checking that the facility works as intended.

After a three- to four-month test period, Schmidt said he would be back before the Legislature to outline his plan to bring all the prisoners now housed in Colorado back to Alaska.

“We would start the next fiscal year with our 30 inmates and … end the fiscal year with all the prisoners we intend to put there,” he said.

Assuming the Legislature finances the positions, Schmidt said, his department would need a few months to recruit and train employees to run the new prison. The state and borough have estimated it will take 350 employees to run the facility.

“It’ll be a challenge,” he said, “but I think we’re ready for it.”