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New prison relocation effort begins with a question: Does a move make sense?

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 11:02 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County  Friday, March 8, 2013.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — At the kick-off meeting Wednesday of the state's recently reorganized prison relocation board, members talked about how to answer the question of whether a move makes sense.

"I haven't decided," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said after the two-hour meeting of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority board. "There's more information I need to see."

During the meeting, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he and other members of the original prison relocation board came to the conclusion that "not only is this feasible or possible, but it probably makes sense. But we weren't 100 percent sure."

Last session, lawmakers changed the board to make it easier to come up with a recommendation for Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature about relocating the decades-old state prison in Draper.

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County  Friday, March 8, 2013.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The original board, Wilson said, "found this much more complicated than I think we originally anticipated." He urged the new board to reach a decision in time for the 2014 Legislature that begins meeting in January to consider.

Some lawmakers, Wilson said, have expressed the hope the group could finalize a recommendation by the fall that could be dealt with in a special legislative session. "I don't know if that's reasonable," he said.

But with interest rates and construction costs starting to creep back up after dropping during the nation's recession, Wilson said the state can't afford to take too much time to settle on a plan.

"There's a lot of pressure on this group to make a decision," he said.

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County  Friday, March 8, 2013.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The new board's chairman, Lane Summerhays, said members need to start by understanding the prison's needs, starting with an upcoming tour of the 700-acre facility at Point of the Mountain.

Summerhays said the core question for the board is: "How do we get to point where we say, 'Move the prison?'"

At the board's next meeting on June 27, members will review a half-dozen proposals submitted to the original board during a closed executive session because at least some of the proposals contain proprietary information.

One of the new board's duties is to put together a request for more detailed proposals that could include moving the aging prison in stages to an as-yet undetermined location or turning over the operation of a new facility to a private company.

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County  Friday, March 8, 2013.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake County Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Wilson encouraged the new board "as much as possible to think outside the box." The new board, he said, has about $1.7 million to cover hiring staff and other costs.

McAdams, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Gary Herbert, said he believes there is enough time to make the right decision between now and the next general session of the Legislature.

"There is a sense of urgency," McAdams said. "What could be a good decision today might not pencil in a year from now."

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