More Questions than Answers After Fort Madison Prison Hearing

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DES MOINES, Iowa - More than a year after a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, the facility remains unopened and construction costs continue to rise.

Back in 2008 under Governor Chet Culver, $117 million was approved for the facility with a completion date in 2013.

During a tour earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Corrections told lawmakers it estimated the prison would now cost $166 million to open, a total that several state representatives feel still won’t cover it.

"The problem I have is that I would almost bet a steak that this will cost $200 million by the time it's occupied,” said State Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from District 20.

Thursday morning, the house oversight committee brought in Department of Administrative Service Director Janet Phipps to address the situation.

Phipps told the committee the delay is currently due to a failed smoke evacuation system. She estimates it will take 4-6 weeks for contractors to determine how to fix the problem, and an unknown amount of time to actually complete the work.

Phipps also told the committee that contractors on the project have asked for an additional $8-$10 million in “equitable adjustments.” She did not have an estimate as to how much it would cost to complete the work to the smoke evacuation system.

What Phipps was unable to answer was when the prison is actually going to open, who is responsible for a wide range of issues, and what the final price tag will be.

"This is why tax payers get angry and have a lack of trust in the government,” said State Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican from District 42.

DAS says it is working with the attorney general’s officer and Iowa Department of Corrections to investigate the matter.

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