New hurdle emerges for plan to rebuild Lansing state prison; delay may cause cost to grow

The exterior of the Lansing Correctional Center is seen Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Lansing, Kan.

? A decision on whether to proceed with a $362 million rebuilding of the Lansing state prison has been delayed, as Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers unexpectedly postponed a meeting of the State Finance Council on Thursday.

A spokesman for Brownback told reporters that the Department of Corrections and CoreCivic, the private company selected to manage the project, need more time to answer ongoing questions and concerns from lawmakers about the project.

The delay, however, could eventually drive up the cost of the project. The council had been scheduled to make a final decision two weeks ago, but members agreed to put the decision off until Thursday in order to address legislative concerns.

CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger said at that time that his company could wait for two weeks and still guaranty the price it had offered. But any further delay could have a cost impact because of heavy demand in the construction industry this season following hurricanes in the Gulf Coast and wildfires in the west last year.

The proposed project would call for CoreCivic to demolish the existing medium security facility at Lansing and build a new facility on that site that would house both medium and maximum security prisoners.

Maximum security prisoners are currently housed in the original portion of the prison that dates back to the 1860s.

The Department of Correections is proposing to finance the project through a 20-year lease-purchase agreement that agency officials have said could be paid for through operational savings from a more efficient facility.

But lawmakers have questioned whether the reduced staffing levels the agency has proposed are realistic, and whether they would be adequate to protect the safety of both prison staff and the inmates.

The Finance Council is made up of the governor and top Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers. It generally has authority to make some financial decisions for the state when the Legislature is not in session.

A final decision had been expected before the start of the 2018 session. But now that lawmakers are back in session, some have called for requiring the final decision to be approved by the full Legislature.