Judge Throws Out Appeal in Iowa Prison Construction Case

FORT MADISON, Iowa — In spite of legal action from a consortium of construction organizations, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver ordered state officials to sign a contract for construction to begin on a new $116.9 million maximum-security prison.
The order followed appeals by Weitz Co., a Des Moines-based construction firm, and Master Builders of Iowa, a trade group representing 2,000 Iowa businesses, to overturn the contract awarded to Walsh Construction II, LLC, based in Chicago. That appeal was thrown out by a circuit judge that said the plaintiffs had not exhausted administrative efforts to warrant a lawsuit.
Walsh was the lowest overall bidder out of six competing firms, while Weitz was the lowest bidder from within Iowa, offering to build the 800-bed prison for $121.5 million. The appeal contended that Walsh officials submitted incorrect bid forms regarding labor preference laws. Walsh officials have not commented on the allegations.
The lawsuit had elicited an angry response from the Southeast Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council, which is concerned about delays and the nearly 20 percent unemployment rate among trade union workers in this area, according to reports.
This project is also a heated issue in Culver’s re-election effort. The governor has said it is important that this project maintains its anticipated schedule and has asked the Trades Council to open a labor hall near the construction site so Iowans could apply for the 300 to 500 construction jobs this project is expected to create.