SALT LAKE CITY — A new 4,000-bed state prison is on track to be finished by November 2020, four years after the purchase of property west of Salt Lake City International Airport is expected to be finalized.
But the update provided Monday to the state's Prison Development Commission by the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management also included a discussion of ensuring a 1,000-bed expansion would be possible in the future.
"Are we making a 20-year decision or a 50-year decision?" asked the commission's co-chairman, House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, describing the difficulty lawmakers encountered in identifying a new prison site.
The Utah Legislature voted in August 2015 to move the aging Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper to the Salt Lake site, rather than proposed locations in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield in Utah County, and Grantsville in Tooele County.
The decision came after years of debate, including contentious public hearings held in the communities under consideration for the new prison, expected to cost taxpayers $550 million.
"We don't want to have that experience again," Wilson told architect Kevin Miller, part of a team hired for what will be the state government's largest-ever construction project.
Miller said the designs being put together would allow for about 1,000 more beds within the prison walls. He said the size of the facility has been scaled down to 130 acres from 200 acres because too much space could lead to inmate "mischief."
Any more beds, the architect said, would be unmanageable in a single facility.
Jim Russell, the division's project director, said the design is intended to limit the amount of soil mitigation needed because of the area's wetlands by shrinking "it as much as possible."
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the other commission co-chairman, said the state always has the option of contracting with local jails for additional beds or adding to the existing state prison in Gunnison "if that's necessary."
Ron Gordon, head of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, said new reforms in the criminal justice system are expected to keep the prison population from growing over the next 20 years.
Further discussion on a potential expansion is expected at a future commission meeting. A second state commission is already looking at developing the nearly 700 acres at Point of the Mountain as part of a "Silicon Slopes" technology corridor.
Russell also reported that the state has spent nearly $65.2 million so far, including the anticipated purchase price of at least 320 acres total. After the meeting, he said details of the deal are still being negotiated, including the acreage and cost.
He told the commission the state was "mostly on track" when it came to the expense expected for readying the site and nearly all of the needed studies have been completed.
Later, Russell said a grid of 30-foot stone columns would be needed under heavier buildings rather than much bigger anchor pilings as originally discussed, although massive amounts of soil will still have to be brought to the site.
Last session, lawmakers appropriated $80 million to the state for the prison and authorized $470 million in bonding. Russell said the plan is to issue the first bond in the second quarter of 2017.
Wilson said overall he's pleased with the progress being made on the project.
"So far, so good," he said later. "I'm sure the next couple of meetings will get a lot more detailed in terms of what they're really thinking."