CHEYENNE — Pending approval by Gov. Matt Mead, a contractor will examine soils in and around Rawlins later this month as part of preparations for the future of the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

The Task Force on State Penal Facilities, a group made up of lawmakers and citizen representatives, voted Monday to authorize spending up to $60,000 for geotechnical services through the consulting firm Martin/Martin.

Mead must sign off on the expenditure before the money can be spent.

The data will ultimately be used in Martin/Martin’s final report that will assess options for the prison, including whether the prison should be moved to another location in Rawlins.

The Wyoming State Penitentiary is plagued by multiple structural issues, and lawmakers are trying to figure out a long-term solution.

Last month, the task force approved a $133,000 contract with Martin/Martin to analyze the pros and cons of various options for the future of the prison, which is located on the south side of Rawlins.

Those options include repairing the existing prison, constructing new buildings at the existing prison or building a new facility on the north side of Rawlins.

The existing prison opened in 2001 and was supposed to last 50 years. However, it was built on unstable soil, and, as a result, walls and floors are buckling and cracking, creating other problems for the prison.

Repairing the existing prison has been estimated to cost $85 million, while building a new facility has been estimated to cost $175 million.

The final analysis of the options is expected by the end of the month and will take cost into consideration, including things like utilities.

“You could spend millions of dollars running utilities to a site … we don’t want that,” said Michael McAffrey, a principal with Martin/Martin. “We want the best solution.”

Martin/Martin will analyze soil at several potential sites that are under various ownership situations.

The firm will need permission from landowners before getting samples.

Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, said the plan is to “identify potentially good locations to build and then look at landowner issues.”

Lawmakers have budgeted money for planning for the prison’s future, as well as for some fixes to the existing facility. But it has not been decided how a major overhaul of the prison will be funded.

By Matt Murphy

Wyoming Tribune Eagle