SKIPPACK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — American self-help guru Napoleon Hill once opined “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Hill probably hadn’t spent much time in Montgomery County, Pa., however, where the dream of a new $350 million state prison has grown into a nightmare two years over deadline — with possibly more delays to come.
The State Correctional Institution Phoenix (SCI Phoenix), which is replacing SCI Graterford in Skippack Township, was originally due to open Nov. 20, 2015. However, work on the facility was frozen from December of last year until May 2017 due to conflicts with the contractor, Walsh-Heery Joint Venture, which is a partnership between Chicago-based Walsh Group Ltd. and Heery International of Atlanta. Most recently, the Phoenix, as the new facility is known colloquially, was slated to open on Sept. 29 of this year, but now it’s delayed until summer 2018.
“We are more than two years behind schedule, but we are making sure the project is getting attention,” Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services spokesperson Troy A. Thompson told the Reading Eagle, a local news service.
As Correctional News reported in April 2017, 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 being advised 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. To date, the state has only issued occupancy permits for utility rooms and guard towers — none for the cellblocks.
SCI Phoenix has beds for 3,872 inmates versus the Graterford facility it’s replacing, which only accommodates 3,544 inmates. Moreover, the Phoenix features 100-bed death row unit and a female unit, whereas Graterford only has space for 50 death row inmates. The new facility is also air-conditioned.
Plans for Phoenix began in 2000, with the hope of reducing operational costs. The state expects a daily cost of $70 per inmate in the new facility, compared with $100 per day in Graterford.