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Wyoming State Penitentiary

Panes of glass, in a room adjacent to an inmate housing area at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, have fractured under the pressure of the shifting structure. Officials working on repairs have recently discovered more shoddy construction and leaks under the building.

Officials working to repair the Wyoming State Penitentiary have discovered more shoddy construction and leaks within the building, adding to the repair work necessary at the Rawlins prison, which was built on unstable soil and has been suffering from cracks and shifts since 2013.

During recent excavations, water was discovered sealed under the building, and when released, thousands of gallons came flowing out. But the water wasn’t coming from the ground, said State Construction Department Delbert McOmie, it was coming from leaks in the prison kitchen.

Other elements of the prison’s plumbing also appear to be faulty, McOmie told the Joint Appropriations Committee on Friday in Casper. He referenced one leaking pipe that was 6-inches wide but set into a 10-inch hole without any sealant, and a fire hose line that was built with PVC plastic piping rather than the standard metal and secured with bolts that weren’t stainless steel.

“They were rusting,” McOmie said. “Some of them you could just take your hand and squeeze them and they’d break.”

In another instance, workers implementing a repair plan for the prison had to adapt after a pipe that was marked as a stormwater sewer turned out to be a sanitary sewer carrying wastewater.

While the appropriations committee, which has overseen spending on prison repairs, has heard about problems with the building for years, some members were especially frustrated with the latest revelations.

“We should never build a building again on soil like this because we don’t have the level of competency to ensure that pipes are put together,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. “Wish we could get to a point where we can make sure construction is just as it’s set to be.”

McOmie said the department would have more on-site inspection in the future to ensure that state employees could carefully monitor the work of private contractors.

He added that the prison roof also appeared to be leaking and the insulation was saturated with water.

The bulk of the presentation focused on the status of repairs ordered by the appropriations committee in August when members voted for a $7.5 million repair option instead of the $80 million rebuild originally proposed.

The option being pursued focuses on grading the land surrounding the prison to improve drainage, repairing severely damaged elements of the complex and building some supports to provide reinforcement.

McOmie said one part of the grading project was nearly complete and there was progress on some internal projects as well, such as the relocation of a damaged utility room. Eighty-eight damaged windows have also been replaced, and McOmie said more were likely to need replacement in the near future due to shifts in the building.

“We can expect some further cracking and shattering of those windows,” he said.

McOmie said that more study was required before some interior repairs could be completed, and that work would be conducted this winter with construction starting in the spring. That frustrated committee co-chair Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, who said his understanding was the consultants hired to assess the building stated that the repairs should be completed immediately and that interior work ought to be possible to complete even during the winter.

“The whole concept of our report is to get this done,” Nicholas said. “If we’re going to step back and take a look, let’s do it but let’s do it next month or next week.”

But McOmie said that some of the interior work was delicate and would require more time to assess before starting construction.

In addition to the $7.5 million allocated for prison improvements, the construction department has also been using general building maintenance funds and some money from contingency funds. The proposal Friday did not include a specific budget request but it is likely that a hard number needed to complete repairs will be presented to the Legislature ahead of its February session.

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.


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