Rebuilding all or some of prison at current spot is another option for committee

Published: Friday, June 15 2012 5:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Another option emerged Friday in the debate over relocating the Utah State Prison from Point of the Mountain — building a new facility on just part of the property to free up the rest for development.

Members of the state's Prison Relocation Authority Committee took no action after a newly two-hour meeting, but will hear reports next month on how all the options would affect the prison as well as economic development.

The committee was created by the 2011 Legislature to seek proposals to relocate the 61-year-old prison so the more than 700-acre site could be used for commercial and residential development.

"Maybe we can have the best of both worlds," Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said, proposing that the bulk of the prison's operations could be moved while keeping on site, for example, inmates who are receiving treatment at University Hospital.

Another member of the committee, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said there might even be a way to build an entire new prison on only about a quarter of the existing site, allowing the rest of the property to be developed.

Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said building new prison facilities on some of the site's open land could be a way to free up the prime real estate fronting I-15.

But Ellertson noted the prison's various buildings still have an average of 25 years of remaining life. He and other members talked about taking up to 20 years to complete any move.

"It's going to be a long-term process, no matter what we're looking at," Ellertson said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said developers are eager to start building on the prison site as soon as possible.

"No question, the folks that want the site want it immediately," Jenkins said.

Draper officials, too, are eager to see development.

"Jobs bring people and people bring their wallets," Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said. Another big plus for the city is being able to collect taxes on what is now state-owned land.

Just how long any move should take remains to be determined. That and other details of a possible move, including how to pay for it, will be discussed further at the committee's next meeting on July 27.

A 2005 study found it would cost taxpayers more than $300 million, the difference between the price of a new prison and the value of the land then. Since then, property values have dropped dramatically.

"What we don’t want the taxpayers to have to do is put a lot of money into this," Wilson said. But coming up with a way to pay for the project without an upfront investment won't be easy, he said.

Tom Patterson, executive director of the state Department of Corrections, suggested either a full or partial move of the prison could be made to work, especially over a number of years.

Still, he raised a number of concerns about a move to a remote location.

The committee has visited just one potential site for a new prison, state-owned trust land in Rush Valley in Tooele County. Patterson said it might be too far to transport prisoners to the specialized hospital care available at the U. or to court.

Patterson said moving the prison some 45 miles away from the state's population center would make it tougher for the prison to keep employees and attract volunteers.

It would also mean fewer visits for inmates from their children and other family members, he said, likely affecting rehabilitation efforts. Using technology to maintain that contact isn't the same, Patterson said.

"I don't want to be old-fashioned," he said. "But there's something about the holding of hands and meeting of eyes, particularly when you're talking about children.

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