An Illinois based construction company has been awarded a contract to build Iowa’s new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison. Robert Bailey, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, says Walsh Construction of Chicago submitted the lowest bid.

“There were six bidders overall,” Bailey said. “Two of them were from Iowa and the rest were from out of state.” Walsh’s bid for the project was $116.9 million. Bailey says state law requires the D.A.S. to award building contracts to the lowest bidder. Some labor groups have raised concerns with Walsh Construction – questioning how many workers on the Fort Madison project will be from out of state.

Bailey says the final written contract between Walsh and the D.A.S. will stipulate the construction company “give preference” to Iowa workers. An agreement state officials negotiated with labor unions allows out-of-state construction companies to bring “core employees” to an Iowa worksite. The new prison is expected to take two years to complete and involve hundreds of workers.

“It’s a big project and it’ll take quite a while,” Bailey said. “Part of that is – with a maximum security prison – it’s not just a matter of slapping up a few walls and walking away. I think the estimate I saw is 300 to 500 workers.”

The 800-bed prison is slated to open in July 2013. The existing facility has 500 beds and was built in 1839.