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Price tag for new prison continues to rise

(Photo Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The costs for the new state prison are expected to be much higher than previously thought.  Some state officials say a strong economy could be behind the expenses going up.

Officials with the Department of Administrative Services say the idea that costs for the prison would rise was not a surprise to them.  However, if you were to ask Deputy Director Marilee Richins to give a specific total, she says they wouldn’t be able to do it.

“We can’t tell you until we start getting bids back on these and see how close we’re coming to our estimates,” Richins said.

Previous estimates put the total costs at $650 million; however, Richins said, “We have 50 percent of this project bid out and we’re seeing [expenses reaching] 18 to 22 percent over original estimates.”  Some analysts believe total costs could go as high as $800 million.

It’s a case of supply and demand, Richins explained.  Several high profile construction projects are happening all over Utah, and they’re all competing for the same resources, like materials and labor.  When demand goes up, so do prices.

“There’s the airport and some other higher education buildings. The private sector is doing some massive projects right now,” Richins said.

On the positive side, Richins said they’ve found ways to save $118 million from the totals costs by doing things like eliminating 400 beds and changing the sewer design.  Plus, they’re getting a lot of pressure from the Governor’s office to find more ways to cut expenses.

“We can’t tell you until we start getting bids back on these and see how close we’re coming to our estimates,” she said.

Richins said they have enough cash to keep the work going, so they didn’t ask the legislature for more money during the last session.