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The possible relocation site of the Utah State Prison at about 7200 West north of I-80 is seen on Aug. 10, 2015, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the $12.4 million purchase of 323 acres for a new state prison has been completed, work on the site could begin in a matter of months, says the co-chairman of the Utah Legislature's Prison Development Commission.

"As soon as a haul road is in, they could technically start building or prepare to build the first buildings. It will be a process that’s going to take years," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

State officials said the project will take approximately four years to complete.

Still, Friday's announcement about completion of the land purchase was an important milestone in the process, Stevenson said.

"I could yell 'hallelujah' really loud," he said.

Stevenson likens the project to building a town from scratch, which means creating water and sewer connections, laying down miles of pipe, installing a massive refrigeration unit, let alone construction of secure facilities to house, feed and provide medical and program needs of inmates.

"You’re really putting together a city of 6,000 people out there that can’t leave and go on vacation, so you’re going to have to take care of them all the time," Stevenson said. "There’s really more than that because you have a host of volunteers and you have a host of employees, so it’s more like a city of probably over 7,000, maybe closer to 8,000 people."

The acreage, which includes land for facilities and infrastructure, is in a portion of the west parcel of the Salt Lake City site near I-80 and 7200 West selected by the Prison Relocation Committee last summer.

The $12.4 million purchase price is lower than the anticipated $30 million cost, state officials announced Friday.

Site assessments and studies on how to protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas resulted in the state being able to purchase far less land than anticipated, according to the state Division of Facilities Construction.

“This specific site best meets the needs of the Department of Corrections staff, volunteers and inmates, while at the same time addressing the interests of the community and environmental stakeholders we have worked with,” division director Eric Tholen said in a news release.

From the first studies on the need for a new correctional facility a decade ago, the state has been committed to "the best use and return on every dollar spent,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a prepared statement.

“The new facility will provide for the most modern, effective and efficient criminal justice system in the country; a prudent system that will keep our communities safe, reduce recidivism and respect the taxpayer,” Herbert said.

Another reason the purchase price was lower than originally anticipated is that "it’s going to be a little more expensive to develop" the site, Stevenson said.

But state officials believe the infrastructure will reap benefits down the road as other developments seek to connect into improvements created for the new correctional facility, he said.

"There will be a lot of other opportunities to hook on the infrastructure that we put in with the prison, and some of that will be tied to payback agreements. Some of those will take years to develop," Stevenson said.

The new correctional facility will offer expanded treatment and educational programs intended to reduce the likelihood of people committing new crimes after release, thus enhancing public safety, corrections officials say.

"This new correctional facility is part of an overall strategy to improve our criminal justice outcomes, enhance the safety and security of our corrections system, improve operations and reduce recidivism," Rollin Cook, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, said in a statement.

"This strategy will help slow the growth in the number of offenders being incarcerated and the costs to provide additional prison beds," Cook said.

Stevenson said the state's thorough due diligence process resulted in selection of a site that will serve the state well into the future if prison expansion is required.

But early trends of the state's Justice Reinvestment Initiative show a reduction in the state prison population.

"As we continue through this process, there is a possibility that we could certainly build less beds out there than we have talked about," Stevenson said.

For more information about the new state correctional facility, visit newutahstateprison.utah.gov.