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No Bid Prisons, Questions Unanswered

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Recent turmoil and violence at the Holman Prison has brought sharp focus on the boiling caldron that is the State’s Department of Corrections.

Gov. Robert Bentley has championed the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act as a potential solution to prison overcrowding and other ills……but at what cost?

On the same day that Gov. Bentley toured Holman prison to address the recent inmate crisis he also met with the Senate Republican Caucus to promote the prison bond initiative.

SB287 would authorize the State to issue $800 million dollars in bonds, to pay for the cost of construction of four new prisons and the refurbishing of at least a dozen others, under a no-bid contract scheme.

Oversight for the $800 million project would fall under the Prison Authority which according Alabama Code Section 14-2-6: is comprised of the Governor, Corrections Commissioner and the Finance Director.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn has testified in committee, that the State should hire one firm for an $800 million contract to build four new prisons and renovate several existing prisons, using the Design-build method of construction. Dunn said he had been informed that the Design-build method was the only way the project could be completed. However, when pressed, Dunn could offer no justification for the no-bid, Design-build method.

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“Design-build is a method of project delivery in which one entity – the design-build team – works under a single contract with the project owner to provide design and construction services,” according to the Design-build Institute of America.

Design-build is an alternative to the traditional design-bid-build, which has been the mainstay for publicly funded projects for decades and is currently required under State law.

“Efficiency” is the reason generally given for eliminating the State’s decades-old bid laws for public works projects.

The no-bid software project STAARS failure serves as a recent reminder of bureaucratic strategy left unchecked.

Katherine Lynn, former head of the Alabama Building Commission, now the Director of the Finance Department Construction Management Division, has been aggressively pushing the no-bid, Design-build prison project according to those close to the project. Lynn’s husband Freddie is an architect with Goodwyn Mills and Cawood.

There is wide speculation among insiders that Goodwyn Mills and Cawood will be chosen to serve as architect and engineer on the prison project.

This notion has been buoyed by reports that Goodwyn Mills and Cawood’s CEO Bill Wallace has been a part of several meetings concerning the bond issue for the prisons.

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Acting Finance Director Bill Newton has also been vocal in his support of the $800 million bond issue which, over time, will cost Alabama taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion.

An article from CommonWealth, Politics, Ideas & Civic Life in Massachusetts, cites a study by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts (ABC) which found traditional design-bid-build projects had savings four-times greater than the CM at risk projects.

Many questions surrounding the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act remain unanswered. Emails to the Governor’s office have been unanswered, as well as calls and texts to lawmakers supporting the bill.

Questions sent to the Office of Gov. Robert Bentley:

What makes the State believe that using Design-build (or any other alternative delivery methods) would save more money than putting the job out for a hard bid where contractors are putting forward the lowest price possible to get the work?

Is there a budget of any kind to support the statement that these facilities can be built for $800M?

Is there a research study or other existing case studies that were used or initiated by the State to determine if Design-build was the best way to proceed with this project?

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If there was a research study may we have a copy of the data for our analysis?

Would you please provide the selection criteria that will be used to pre-qualify the contractors the State plans to interview for possibly using to construct this project?

Would you provide the selection criteria that will be used for the proposal process to select the eventual winner of this contract?

What assurances are there that local architects, engineers and contractors will be utilized to the fullest extent as allowed by law?

This bill gives a lot of power and control to the State Finance Department Construction Management Division.

Who will they answer to for the expenditure of $800M?

Who will be checking to see that these dollars are accounted for?

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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