Prisoners Given Opportunity To Dig In On Pipe Project

SATURDAY, MAY 25, 1996

Airway Heights prisoners will get their hands dirty in two weeks, digging trenches and pouring concrete to replace the prison’s faulty water lines.

Originally estimated to cost $4 million, the water-line repairs should run about $400,000 less because the state will use prisoners for much of the work.

The amount of money saved would be even greater except that the state must hire an extra 15 crew supervisors to closely watch the prisoners while they work.

“The state has never mounted a repair job this size inside a prison before. It’s unique,” said Bill Phillips, chief of engineering for the corrections department.

Until last month, state corrections officials planned to use outside contractors to dig out and replace about 4,600 feet of leaking water pipes.

Then state officials decided to try a simpler remedy - leave the bad pipes in place and install another set of water lines. The pipes carry hot or cold water that provide heating and cooling to the medium-security prison.

If the old lines were torn out, inmates and staff would face a period without cooling or heating as the new system is completed and tested, Phillips said.

Between 40 and 100 Airway Heights prisoners will be hired to dig trenches for the new water lines 2-3 feet below ground. The leaking lines are about 8 to 10 feet deep.

The cause of the leaks has not been determined. The issue will probably lead to lawsuits.

State officials blame the contractors who designed and installed the lines when the prison was constructed in 1993 and 1994.

The primary contractors, Kitchell Construction of Phoenix, C&R; Plumbing of Coeur d’Alene and ZGF Architects of Seattle, contend that various factors - such as underground water - degraded the joints and caused the leaks.

Even before the prison announced the jobs this week, Airway Heights inmates asked for applications, said spokesman Rich Hewson.

“Rumors work pretty well at getting the word around here,” said Hewson, the prison’s administrative assistant.

In addition to digging out trenches, prisoners will pour the concrete that will form the 6-foot-wide by 2-foot-deep concrete liners holding the new water lines.

Those liners, plus a layer of rock beneath the concrete box, will keep the lines from freezing.

State officials spent this week finding some of the 15 supervisory guards needed for the project.

Those supervisors will earn $55,000 to $60,000 per year though the project should only run about six months, said Pat Davis, the project’s construction manager.

Other guards will search trucks bringing materials into the prison. Tools will be closely supervised and monitored.

“They’ll make each truck coming in or leaving even open its engine lid,” Phillips said.

After inmates dig trenches and pour concrete, outside contractors will install the cooling and heating lines.

Bids will be opened in late July to decide who does that work, Phillips said.

He predicted the installation of the water lines should start in August and be finished in December or January at the latest.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S IT WORTH? Inmates hired for the job will get a flat rate of $1 an hour.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S IT WORTH? Inmates hired for the job will get a flat rate of $1 an hour.


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