State legislators have rejected almost all new spending this session, but they’re moving quickly to approve one Eastern Washington budget request.
Members of Senate and House committees have unanimously agreed to spend $5.3 million on emergency cooling and heating system repairs for the Airway Heights Corrections Center.
“This is unusual this session, but it’s for a specific problem and we’re saying that the state will get the money back,” said Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee.
Getting the money back, however, will require suing the contractor or designer of the system, Sehlin said.
This week, the committee will send the bill to the full House, where no opposition is expected. The water-system problem surfaced last summer after Department of Corrections staff discovered sections of the Airway Heights prison were without cool air.
“We think it’s a chronic, systemwide problem, not just a few mistakes here and there,” said Corrections’ chief engineer Bill Phillips.
The prison houses 1,024 medium-security inmates and 210 minimum-security prisoners.
To save money, Gov. Mike Lowry delayed opening the Airway Heights medium-security portion of the prison until November 1994.
The problem with the water system stems from faulty lines, buried 12 feet underground.
The lines, about 4,600-feet long, deliver water used to cool and heat prison buildings.
The system is working now, after workers repaired several major leaks and reconnected a number of line joints.
To avoid future breakdowns, Corrections is prepared to spend up to $5.3 million to replace the entire underground system, said engineering budget director John Adsit.
“We want this to last for 30 years like it’s supposed to, not just have a short-term fix,” Adsit said.
State officials have asked Kitchell Construction of Phoenix, which installed the water lines, to make full repairs.
But “they’re playing their cards close to the chest right now,” Phillips said.
Representatives of Kitchell Construction and the system’s designer, ZGF Architects of Seattle, have told the state they want an independent engineering firm to examine the system before making any commitments.
Phone calls to both firms went unanswered Wednesday.