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United Way of Lancaster County


County releases draft of space allocations proposed for new correctional facility

A pie chart shows preliminary space allocations for the Lancaster County Correctional Facility, inset in an aerial image of the facility’s site. (Source: Lancaster County)

The Lancaster County commissioners and the public got their first look today at the draft program for the county’s new correctional facility.

The program document is akin to a recipe, CGL Lead Planner Chloe Jaco told the county commissioners at their work session Tuesday morning. That is, it lists the ingredients of the new complex: The categories of space, their number and size and their relation to each other.

For more information

The program draft report and the slides from Tuesday’s presentation to the county commissioners are available on the “project details” page of the Lancaster County Correctional Facility project website.

It is based on the population projections from the needs assessment finalized last winter, along with the wish-lists and priorities compiled over months of research and stakeholder interviews. It includes allocations for health and mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job and life-skills training and more.

CGL, Jaco’s organization, is the “owner’s representative” retained by the county to help it coordinate the massive project. The design team, TranSystems Corp., came on board in September.

Jaco, county Purchasing Director Linda Schreiner and the commissioners themselves stressed that the draft program is just that: A preliminary document. Everything in it is provisional and subject to change, they said.

“No decisions have been made,” Jaco said: In particular, nothing about the project’s size or budget has been finalized, and it will be months before that happens.

“This is just a step,” Commissioner Josh Parsons said. There is much more discussion and input, including public input, to come before decisions are made he said; and when the time does come, those decisions will be made “in a careful and public way.”

About the document

In line with the needs assessment, the draft program envisions a facility with 1,212 beds, based on projections out to the year 2050. Of those, 704 would be for the general population (608 male, 96 female); the rest would be in specialized units of various kinds. (For a detailed breakdown, click here.)

Click to enlarge. Note: “Building gross” accounts for square footage not available for programming, such as floor space occupied by interior walls. (Source: Lancaster County)

Adding in support space gives a preliminary total size of 482,392 square feet. At $400 per square foot — a ballpark figure for construction costs cited by TranSystems Corp. in its interview this spring — that would put the total cost at more than $190 million.

The county has hired TranSystems to create a preliminary prison design and budget. Commissioner John Trescot recommended moving ahead with that step: It will leave plenty of room for modifications, even major ones; but it will generate reasonable cost estimates for the various components so that planners can think through their options and weigh tradeoffs.

TranSystems should be asked to provide two budgets, he said: One for a facility built out with all 1,212 beds; plus another with the same support spaces, but a smaller initial bed count of 1,000.

That would provide two data points, he said; and given the County Prison’s current daily population, which has been averaging a bit under 800 this year, a count of 1,000 beds seems like a plausible lower bound.

County officials had said a public listening session would be held following the draft program document’s release. It is tentatively scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 10, at the County Government Center, Schreiner said.

Trescot urged advocates interested in influencing the project to study the draft. It provides a lot of detail: If you’re interested in a particular element, such as mental health services, look at what’s being proposed, and start from there.

It was Trescot who advocated for the county’s contract with TranSystems include a “pause” before detailed drawings are begun. That way, all programming decisions can be reviewed as much as needed before moving ahead.

This is the time to think through the plans, he said, while everything is still “phosphors on a screen.”

His two colleagues concurred. Parsons said his priority is get the project right, even if it takes a little longer, rather than hew to an arbitrary schedule.

The correctional facility design process is projected to take about a year, according to the county’s tentative timeline. The county is hoping to break ground toward the end of 2024 and open it for occupancy in late 2026.