Legislators are growing frustrated as they seek answers to the “colossal” problems that have delayed the opening of the new state prison in Fort Madison. The facility was to open nearly a year ago, but problems with its ventilation systems are still being fixed. Department of Administrative Services director Janet Phipps Burkhead testified before the House Oversight Committee Thursday, but gave similar responses to a variety questions about the project.
“I just honestly don’t know that,” Phipps Burkhead often said.
Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City, said she was “disappointed” and hopes the director isn’t “stonewalling” legislators.
“Someone was calling the shots, so tell us who. And changes were made. Tell us who,” Lensing said. “Who authorized that?”
Lensing and other legislators say they are “growing frustrated” as they try to “connect the dots” and figure out what happened to the Fort Madison facility.
For the past 10 months Phipps Burkhead, who is an attorney, had led the state agency that is the project manager for the prison. She did confirm she’s working with lawyers in the attorney general’s office who are plotting a lawsuit against companies involved in the prison project to try to recoup some of the extra costs.
In 2008, the estimated cost of a new, maximum-security prison in Fort Madison was $132 million. Officials now say the actual cost will likely be about $54 million more than that. The 800-bed prison is going to sit empty for several more months as companies are just now submitting bids to install a new smoke ventilation system and get it installed.