By Jessie Fetterling
SKIPPACK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Walsh Heery Joint Venture, a Pittsburgh-based partnership for the general contractors based in Chicago and Atlanta (respectively), plans to complete the long overdue State Correctional Institute Phoenix (SCI Phoenix) prison in Skippack Township firm by Sept. 28, 2017. Lawyers for Walsh Heery provided state General Services Secretary Curt Topper with the new date in a federal court filing in February, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. However, the state has still not made a formal announcement since Walsh Heery has failed to meet earlier deadlines.
Walsh Heery has overseen construction for SCI Phoenix since 2013 and was originally on track for a November 2015 completion date. Now, the general contractor is racking up late fees of $35,000 a day to the tune of at least $17 million so far, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer. The originally $350 million project is now at least $400 million due to the delays.
Even though the project was largely completed in 2015, the general contractors spent most of last year debating over whether the prison was ready enough to open. Hill International, the Philadelphia firm serving as the state’s representative on the construction site believed that Walsh Heery did not properly prepare final inspections. The general contractor agreed to the September 2017 deadline after Topper warned the team that “further delay in the delivery of a properly constructed sophisticated maximum-security prison could result in unacceptable risks to the safety of Department of Corrections personnel, the citizen of Pennsylvania and the inmates,” according to the December court filing.
Walsh Heery lawyers also noted that the state said the contractor “will face stiff sanctions should further problems with the timing of the completion of the project arise.” However, the filing didn’t specific any additional punishments, apart from the $1 million a month in late penalties already being imposed on the general contractor. Walsh Heery contested the penalties, blaming delays on the state, on Hill International and on its own subcontractors. A representative from Walsh Heery declined to comment on the project at the time of publication.
The almost 4,000-bed project will replace the 1920s Graterford complex nearby and serve as the main detention center for Philadelphia-area inmates. The male facility will be made of seven general housing buildings with 144 cells and 282 beds, three buildings with 96 cells and 96 beds and a 100-bed capital case unit. A 192-bed female transitional unit will also be included. The prison’s change in housing-unit layout will allow for better staff visibility, and a number of security changes and features will ensure the physical-protection systems in place can effectively combine technology.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration announced last year that it planned to two from a list of five Pennsylvania prisons because of inmate population declines. Within the state’s current 26 prisons, there is an inmate population of about 49,000, which has decreased by about 2,400 since 2012, according to the Associated Press.
The state, however, ultimately only decided to close one — State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh — by the end of June of this year. The closure of the 1,900-inmate prison is expected to produce an annual savings of about $81 million. The governor’s plan also involves getting rid of about 1,500 halfway-house beds, most of which are occupied by recent parolees who have no other living alternatives.