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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE — Sen. Jerry Stevenson listens during debate on moving the prison as members of Utah's legislature gather Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City for a special session to vote on moving the Utah State prison from Draper to the west side of Salt Lake City. The state's Prison Development Commission has hired two consultants for help making the initial decision about how to proceed with construction of a new 4,000-bed prison in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The state's Prison Development Commission has hired two consultants for help making the initial decision about how to proceed with construction of a new 4,000-bed prison in Salt Lake City.

The hires come after members of the commission charged with overseeing the $550 million project decided at their first meeting in September that they weren't ready to endorse a plan from the Division of Facilities Construction and Management.

"We wanted the eyes, I guess, of people who have literally done projects this size," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the commission's co-chairman. "I don't think it's that we don't feel comfortable with DFCM."

The consultants, Craig Unger of Unger Security Solutions in Maryland, and Mike Loulakis of Capital Project Strategies in Virginia, will each make less than $5,000, said Bryant Howe, Legislative Research and General Council Office deputy director.

Only Unger is expected to make a presentation at what will be the commission's second meeting, set for Nov. 5. Previously scheduled meetings, on Oct. 14 and 27, were canceled because he and Loulakis weren't available on those dates.

Jim Russell, an assistant director with the division, said the delay hasn't had an impact yet on the schedule for the project that will replace the Utah State Prison in Draper, but a decision needs to be made soon about how it will be managed.

"If this decision on delivery method were to take much longer, it might impact the delivery schedule," he said. "We're getting to the point where we really need to get that going."

Russell told the commission in September the best choice was what's known as a construction manager and general contractor process because it's more flexible and less risky, even though he said it can be slower and add to the cost.

The process calls for site preparation to start in July 2016, with construction of ancillary buildings to be underway a year from now, and work on inmate housing to start in the spring of 2018 and be finished by the end of 2019.

The design/build option would take about three months less to complete because construction would begin during the design phase. Waiting to build until the design is done and a bid awarded would push the projected finish date until July 2021.

The lawmakers who serve on the commission said they want more information before making a recommendation. Stevenson said once they hear from the consultants, "we will have everything teed up for a decision."

The senator said the consultants were selected because of their experience with prison construction. He said the commission isn't looking to hire them for future work on the project, one of the largest the state has ever undertaken.

"This is a big project," Stevenson said. "We just want to make sure we do our homework."

Russell said the state division will have a "tough decision" to make if the commission doesn't agree with his plan.

"Maybe through this process we'll be enlightened," he said. "I'm thinking probably not."

The Legislature voted in special session in August to move the aging prison from nearly 700 acres of prime real estate at Point of the Mountain to a site west of Salt Lake City International Airport.

The site was selected by an earlier legislative commission over locations in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield in Utah County, and Grantsville in Tooele County after years of study.

Russell said the state could be ready to finalize the purchase of the property in as little as four months. The site has an estimated price tag of $30 million and is expected to be costly to develop because of wetlands in the area.

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