Tom Courtney

Tom Courtney

State officials say the water has been shut off to sections of the new state prison in Fort Madison as contractors work to figure out why cold air is leaking into the recreation building and “mechanical alleyways.”

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat, lives about 20 miles from the not-yet-opened prison and prison officials briefed him on the situation Tuesday. “First off, they said that the pipes never froze,” Courtney said this afternoon. “They said they turned them off because they thought they would freeze.”

A written statement issued by the Department of Corrections early this afternoon indicated the situation was uncovered as the prison’s new heating and cooling system was being tested. The prison was supposed to open nearly a year ago, but problems with the heating and cooling system as well as the system for ventilating smoke out of the prison have delayed the opening indefinitely.

Bobby Kaufmann

Bobby Kaufmann

Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, has been heading a House Oversight Committee investigation of the prison delays and Kaufmann said today he’s getting “conflicting reports” about this latest glitch.

“Some are saying it’s because the geothermal system isn’t actually fully functional in times of duress. Others are saying there is potentially leakage on the roof,” Kaufmann said this afternoon “Either way, this is absolutely unacceptable and insane that we’re continuing to have new issues.”

Kaufmann said legislators “aren’t getting straight answers” about the entire prison project.

“This is a boondoggle,” Kaufmann said. “It really is.”

Courtney said he’s at least relieved the water pipes didn’t freeze and break.

“They say nothing froze, nothing was hurt. They’re trying to poo poo it, saying it’s kind of normal,” Courtney said. “…I guess I kind of halfway believe that.”

But Courtney, like Kaufmann, indicated legislators are growing more and more frustrated by the situation.

“There’s been a lot of falsehoods told on this thing and now nobody wants to believe anything,” Courtney said.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he would prefer not to be interviewed for this story.