• Prisons OK, but need some work
    By
     | February 13,2014
     

    MONTPELIER — Vermont’s eight prisons are in good shape, according to an analysis recently conducted on the Department of Corrections’ facilities.

    But about $12 million in deferred maintenance is needed on projects that are considered to be critical, according to David Burley, director of the western region for the Department of Buildings and General Services, or BGS.

    Burley provided the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on Wednesday with an update on the first-ever analysis of facilities completed by a third-party for BGS. Lawmakers provided BGS with $250,000 last year to conduct the analysis.

    “We had no idea what really needed to be done. We just didn’t have that kind of concept,” Burley said.

    “I think the investment in doing the assessments was well-founded,” he said. “We need to do this, but it takes more than our maintenance staff. We don’t have the manpower to do this kind of thing.”

    Burley told lawmakers the $12 million represents “priority-one” projects across the state’s eight prisons. Those projects are needed to correct safety issues or bring facilities up to code and should be “addressed on an immediate or short-term time horizon.”

    “I think it turned out much better than I expected,” he said.

    The state has ranked priorities on four different levels. Burley said the total deferred maintenance costs across all priorities is about $20 million. Lower priority projects will climb the ranks over time, he said.

    The analysis of corrections facilities showed them to be in good shape. In fact, Burley said, two are said to be in fair condition — South Burlington and Swanton — while the six others have been rated excellent.

    He said the total value of the prisons is about $240 million, with just $12 million in immediate maintenance needs. Other projected improvements are factored into the analysis, according to Burley.

    Despite high ratings, Burley said facilities do have pressing needs. The South Burlington prison, for instance, needs interior doors replaced, he said.

    “They’re not reliable. Those are security doors in a very busy prison. It’s disconcerting,” he said.

    Members of the committee greeted the analysis with caution. Rep. Joan G. Lenes, a Democrat from Shelburne, said the high ratings do not matter if the facilities are not properly equipped to handle the department’s programming.

    “I don’t want to get too excited about this,” she said.

    And Rep. Mary Hooper, a Montpelier Democrat, said the amount of deferred maintenance shows the state has not kept up with the department’s needs.

    “This is revealing that we’re significantly underfunding the maintenance that needs to be done, at least in corrections,” Hooper said.

    Burley said the state has boosted maintenance funds in recent years and the facilities are catching up. He said the critical projects that need to be addressed are manageable.

    Rep. Alice Emmons, a Springfield Democrat and chairwoman of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, said the analysis will help the committee plan for the future.

    “We’ve always been concerned about the deferred maintenance and this is very good. It gives us a dollar figure and it gives us a point in time in terms of what the physical conditions of facilities are,” she said.

    But like Lenes, Emmons said she wants to know if the prisons are capable of handling the department’s programs. She said corrections officials will provide testimony on that later this month.

    “That’s the piece that we’re probably going to be spending a little more time on in making these capital investment decisions,” Emmons said.

    The committee discussed creating a new line item in the capital budget to address deferred maintenance projects, but that won’t happen until the at least next year, according to Emmons.

    “I don’t see that happening this year. Maybe in the next two-year budget cycle,” she said.

    neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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