Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 19, 2014

Geothermal system problems delay new Iowa State Penitentiary opening

State Sen. Rich Taylor of Mt. Pleasant warned officials the system was improperly designed, but was ignored.
Jun 16, 2014

FORT MADISON (AP) — Problems with the geothermal heating and cooling system continue to delay the opening of Iowa’s $132 million maximum-security prison in Fort Madison.

The new Iowa State Penitentiary was expected to be occupied in March by 550 inmates, but The Des Moines Register reported today that state officials said the improperly designed heating and cooling system had indefinitely delayed the prisoners’ move from the old penitentiary. State Corrections Department spokesman Fred Scaletta said “there is no predicted date” for the move.

The delay has frustrated state Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, who chairs the prison budget subcommittee. However Courtney, whose constituents include many Fort Madison prison employees, said the new prison shouldn’t be opened until all the problems are resolved.

“This is unacceptable. It shouldn’t have happened,” Courtney said. “We hired the best engineering firm at the time in the state. We got a good contractor, a well-known contractor. But now that it did happen, it seems to me that they are fixing it as best they can.”

Corrections Director John Baldwin blames the design flaws on the Durrant Group, a Dubuque architectural and engineering firm that ceased operations in 2012. The problems appear to be tied to the installation of 40-horsepower geothermal pumps, rather than 25-horsepower pumps, Baldwin said.

The geothermal system operates by transferring heat to and from the ground, which provides cooling in the summer and heat in the winter.

State officials haven’t determined what it will cost to get the geothermal system working properly.

Caleb Hunter, deputy director of the Department of Administrative Services, said the state is paying the additional cost but shouldn’t get the final bill, as extra costs will be covered by insurance or claims filed by the state.

State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, said he warned Corrections Department officials that the geothermal system was improperly designed but was ignored. Taylor retired in 2010 from the Iowa State Penitentiary, where he worked as a master technician for heating, ventilation and cooling systems.

Baldwin said that’s not true, and Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said Taylor was trying to “bring the election-year political circus to town.”

Until the new prison opens, inmates will remain in the old state penitentiary in Fort Madison. Parts of that building date to 1839.

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