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More Questions than Answers After Fort Madison Prison Hearing

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DES MOINES, Iowa - More than a year after a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, the facility remains unopened and construction costs continue to rise.

Back in 2008 under Governor Chet Culver, $117 million was approved for the facility with a completion date in 2013.

During a tour earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Corrections told lawmakers it estimated the prison would now cost $166 million to open, a total that several state representatives feel still won’t cover it.

"The problem I have is that I would almost bet a steak that this will cost $200 million by the time it's occupied,” said State Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from District 20.

Thursday morning, the house oversight committee brought in Department of Administrative Service Director Janet Phipps to address the situation.

Phipps told the committee the delay is currently due to a failed smoke evacuation system. She estimates it will take 4-6 weeks for contractors to determine how to fix the problem, and an unknown amount of time to actually complete the work.

Phipps also told the committee that contractors on the project have asked for an additional $8-$10 million in “equitable adjustments.” She did not have an estimate as to how much it would cost to complete the work to the smoke evacuation system.

What Phipps was unable to answer was when the prison is actually going to open, who is responsible for a wide range of issues, and what the final price tag will be.

"This is why tax payers get angry and have a lack of trust in the government,” said State Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican from District 42.

DAS says it is working with the attorney general’s officer and Iowa Department of Corrections to investigate the matter.


  • John Smith

    It seems fairly clear, given the story as it is now known, that no one from the State reviewed the architectural and engineering designs of the building as it was being constructed. If the construction contractors built it as designed, I think the State will have a hard time not picking up the tab for making it habitable.

    Some state-level person or group should be given the job of finding out how this all happened. Otherwise, we learn nothing from the experience, and it can happen again on a future project. My guess is that the Administration is not going to look into the matter in any meaningful way; I suggest the Legislature hire an unimpeachable special investigator for this, preferably someone from out of state. And, give the investigator subpoena authority. Iowa citizens deserve to know the full truth of the matter.

  • Ed

    i have experience with tech systems, rather than construction, but i think one thing both types of work would have in common, is that when a completely new thing is being created, all but the immediate maintenance is shut off on the old thing, as it is not planned to be used past a certain date. a year past due on a prison is a potentially dangerous situation. what should but hasn’t happened, is to expedite getting this thing to the finish line to head off the consequential damages from delay. and what you will get now, is finger pointing, rear covering, lots of meetings and very little progress

  • Fed UP

    Another freeking example of stupidity and incompetance of the highest degree. This project is turning into an open book, and the taxpayers are all on the hook for it. Sure, spend it like water. We now have scumbag Paulsen forcing thru the gas tax, so we continue to be scr*wed over and nobody is accountable. Branstad is off to a roaring start………..

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