Roughly nine months have passed since state officials signed a $623 million contract to construct a new men’s correctional facility in Elmore County, with work on the site sitting apparently idle in recent weeks for unknown reasons.
In October of 2021, the Alabama Legislature approved a $1.3 billion state prison construction and restoration package that included provisions for the construction of two 4,000-bed prisons in Elmore and Escambia Counties, with the approval of a new women’s facility also included.
Funds for the corrections project would come from the state’s General Fund budget, as well as revenue generated from a bond issue of approximately $750 million. Controversially, the state legislature also approved $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for use in the construction of the new state correctional facilities.
By mid-April, state officials signed a $623 million contract with the Montgomery-based Caddell Construction to begin work on the Elmore County site. Later in June, the state bond issue fell short of its initial value by some $200 million, generating approximately $509 million in funds for the project.
Despite the bond issue shortfall, clearing of the site, which is within eyesight of Staton Correctional Facility near Wetumpka, began in late April. The site, also located near the moth-balled Draper Correctional Facility, was the second site selected in Elmore County, with the original site located roughly 33.5 miles to the east near Tallassee.
W.S. Newell & Sons Inc, a construction company located in Montgomery, was responsible for the initial clearing and excavation of the roughly 300-acre site, with work continuing into the fall of last year.
Between Jan. 5, and Jan. 6, some heavy equipment, including tractors and office trailers, were removed from the site, according to a source familiar with the construction. A representative for W.S. Newell said that the company was unable to comment on work done at the Elmore County site due to their contractual agreement with the state.
For almost two weeks, there has been no apparent movement of heavy equipment present at the site. A number of tractors and construction equipment were still present with at least five commercial trailers visible from a public access road near the facility as of Jan. 26.
Two separate sources with knowledge of the construction told APR last week that multiple sinkholes were found at the site, causing work to be stopped and an environmental assessment of the underlying soil to be conducted with preliminary results of that examination suggesting that an underground stream runs beneath the construction site.
A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Corrections denied that sinkholes were present at the site and insisted that work had not been delayed.
“ADOC can confirm there are no sink holes at the construction site of the new men’s facility in Elmore County, nor is the site conducive to sinkholes,” The spokesperson said in a statement on Jan. 18. “Accordingly, work has not been delayed due to sink holes.”
Both the Alabama Department of Finance and Governor Kay Ivey’s office have yet to respond to questions about possible sinkholes at the site and details on the work that has been done since the beginning of the project in April.
Caddell Construction, who are the primary contractors for the Elmore County Site, have yet to respond to questions regarding whether sinkholes were found at the site and if work continues. Goodwyn Mills Cawood and the Mobile branch of Thompson Engineering, who have been paid for architectural services for the prison construction project, have also yet to respond to questions for comment.
On Jan. 9, an invoice for $3,250.00 was recorded for a “Phase 1 environmental assessment” by Goodwyn Mills Cawood, according to financial records from the ADOC, with no indication as to whether the site referred to the Elmore or Escambia County site.
The state has already spent over $57.7 million since January 2022 on the design and preliminary construction of its new prisons, according to financial records from the ADOC.