SALT LAKE CITY — They're no closer to deciding whether to recommend relocating the Utah State Prison, but members of the state's prison relocation authority voted Wednesday to start putting together a request for bids.
Developers eyeing the prison's nearly 700 acres at Point of the Mountain in Draper will likely have to wait until this fall for details, said Lane Summerhays, Prison Relocation and Development Authority board chairman.
While there is no deadline for a decision, Summerhays said after Wednesday's meeting it may not be possible to have a recommendation ready for the 2014 Legislature that begins meeting in January.
"I don't know how realistic that is, but we'll give it a shot," Summerhays said.
He said the bids will need to be carefully reviewed before the board determines whether the facility, which opened in 1951, should be moved and, if so, where.
Suggested sites for a new prison have included Tooele and Sanpete counties, but Summerhays said nothing's off the table, including streamlining the prison at its current location.
"I think everything should be in play," he said. "In my mind, this is a 70-year decision."
The board is also gathering information about the prison's needs from a variety of sources, including the Department of Corrections, as well as seeking appraisals on the property and an environmental impact statement.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a member of the board, supported moving forward with the bid request. McAdams has raised questions about the cost to taxpayers of moving the prison.
"I have not made a decision whether relocating the prison is something that should happen or should not happen," he said, adding that he worried about the board making "a decision through inaction."
The county mayor said waiting too long to seek bids could close the door on an opportunity to move the prison while interest rates and construction costs remain relatively low.
McAdams said he wants board members to be able to analyze the proposals from developers as other data are being examined rather than wait and "have market conditions change under our feet."
Another board member, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, also stressed the need to "move as rapidly as possible without committing ourselves to a certain outcome."
Urquhart told the board that going after bid proposals from potential developers of the prison site "doesn't commit us to anything. It's simply another way to collect data."
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, also a board member, said the legislation creating the reorganized board asked that bids be solicited as part of the recommendation process.
Wilson praised the Corrections Department for making a presentation to the board Wednesday that focused on the improvements that could be made to inmate services, as well as prison working conditions with a new facility.
"There's been an assumption this is all about freeing up 700 acres in Draper," Wilson said, adding that's "never been the case. What a tremendous opportunity we have to push the reset button."
A committee was appointed that will begin drafting a request for bid proposals and a detailed discussion is expected at the board's Sept. 16 meeting. There are also meetings set for Aug. 8 and Aug. 29.
The August meetings are expected to include presentations from county officials whose facilities house state inmates, as well as the state Board of Pardons and Parole.
New Corrections Department Executive Director Rollin Cook told the board Wednesday he wants state officials "to be proud of corrections" and called the possible move "truly the opportunity of a lifetime."
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