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Bledsoe County Builds Correctional Complex

By: Cindy Riley - CEG CORRESPONDENT

Photo courtesy of Rotondo Weirich Rotondo Weirich uses steel forms to cast the modules. For the Bledsoe project the company mobilized three quad forms. Each form is capable of casting a cell module containing four prison cells.
Photo courtesy of Jason Gentry of Mid-State Construction Crews install the 16-in. (40.5 cm) diameter HDPE distribution piping underneath the roadway.
Photo courtesy of Jason Gentry of Mid-State Construction Bore field supply return piping and valving in the geothermal pump room of the prison, shown here.

Construction on a 431,000-sq.-ft. (40,041 sq m) prison that can house more than 1,400 inmates is close to completion in Pikeville, Tenn. The new Bledsoe County Correctional Complex on Horsehead Road, which according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) will create hundreds of new jobs, includes rows of large gray housing units made from stacked, precast cells built on the prison grounds.

The project was first announced by the TDOC back in 2004, based on population projections which indicated the need for additional beds; however, work didn't actually begin until May 2010. A groundbreaking for the new facility was held in April 2010.

The Bledsoe County addition consists of five buildings containing 632 cells produced in a total of 156 quad-cell modules and four double-cell modules. It is actually an expansion of the Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility, which was built in 1980 and is a time-building institution with a close security designation.

“Rotondo Weirich provided the precast prison cell modules for the Bledsoe project,” explained Bill Franklin, Rotondo Weirich business development director. “We specialize in precast prison cells and perform this work at or near the project site.”

The Lederach, Pa.-based company mobilizes its equipment and personnel and establishes a local casting facility for each project performed. The only PCI certified precast manufacturer in the country that mobilizes its operation to the project site, Rotondo Weirich established a casting facility no more than a few miles from the Bledsoe prison site to form an assembly line process to cast the modules and install the interior furnishings and equipment.


“This pre-fabricated approach takes the manufacturing of the prison cells off the critical path of construction,” said Franklin. “We began the set-up of our casting facility in late spring/early summer of 2010. We began casting prison cells in July 2010 and completed the casting in November of the same year.”

According to Franklin, “Prefabricated precast prison cells depend on early decisions and approvals from the project owner. Rotondo Weirich mobilizes all of our equipment to the project site including our steel forms to cast the modules. For the Bledsoe project we mobilized three quad forms. Each form is capable of casting a cell module containing four prison cells. The forms produce a module approximately 30 ft. long and 20 ft. wide. We also mobilized a Rubber Tire Gantry Crane with 70-ton capacity at the manufacturing facility, as well as a 300-ton crawler crane to erect the modules into position on the project site.”

Crews used local ready mix concrete and welded wire mesh reinforcement to cast the modules. All specialty detention equipment is cast in and installed to complete the modules. This included hollow metal doors and frames, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, detention furniture and all windows and glazing.

The new facility’s cost-saving features include spacious windows and a series of skylights. In addition to five housing units, the prison will reportedly feature buildings for security, administration, visitation, infirmary, cafeteria and work programs.

According to numbers released by the TDOC, the total capacity once expansion is complete will be 2,400 beds. There will be 981 existing beds and 1,444 new beds. The estimated cost of overall construction is approximately $208 million. By utilizing existing administrative staff, operational costs at the facility are expected to be significantly lower than if the department had built a standalone facility. Experienced staff also are expected to ensure a stable transition and dependable workforce as the prison becomes operational.

Upgrades will be made to regional water and electrical systems, according to the TDOC, which officials say will benefit not only the prison, but also the local community. A sophisticated geo- thermal heating system will serve the entire prison. The system uses 580 wells to circulate air underground where the temperature is 55 to 58 degrees. This reduces the cost of additional heating or cooling.

Mid-State Construction Co. Inc. was contracted to install the geothermal heat exchange field and related distribution piping.

“This is the largest geo- thermal heating/cooling system installed to date in the state of Tennessee,” explained Jason Gentry of Mid-State’s geothermal division.“Geothermal heating and cooling systems are an energy-efficient alternative for the heating and cooling of residential, commercial and institutional applications. The more moderate and constant temperatures of the earth used by the geothermal system as a heat sink/source are advantageous, when compared to the outdoor air used by air-source heat pump systems. Geothermal heating and cooling systems use the natural properties of the earth and natural heat transfer to provide heating and cooling to buildings.”

Mid-State drilled the first geothermal bore in July 2010 with work substantially complete by October 2011.

“One of the biggest challenges was the fact that almost all of the lateral excavation would be in rock,” said Gentry. “To alleviate some of the rock excavation in the geothermal heat exchange field, the decision was made to rock trench the lateral ditches before drilling occurred to expedite the excavations after the drilling was completed. There was more than 15,000 lineal ft. (4,572 m) of 16-in. HDPE distribution piping that needed to be installed. The pipe weighed 30 lbs/foot. This pipe is heat fusion welded, which required 9,000 welds and with its weight it took a great deal of coordination to install. Also, with 580 bores at 500 ft. deep each to drill the coordination of up to five drill rigs at a time was a challenge.

“This is the backbone of a vertical geothermal heat and cooling system. The load that can be handled by a geothermal system is dependent upon the overall bore footage drilled for the ground heat exchanger,” Gentry concluded.

The drills used to make the 500 ft. bores were T-4 Ingersoll Rand down the hole hammer drills. The 16 in. HDPE pipe was fusion-welded, using a McElroy 618 TracStar Fusion Welder. Materials included 585,800 ft. of one-and-one-quarter inch DR-9 HDPE pipe for the geothermal heat exchanger loops, 5,000 ft. of 16 in. DR-11 HDPE pipe for distribution piping, more than 654,000 ft. of HDPE pipe was installed for the geothermal heat exchanger and distribution piping.

The general contractor of the project is Flintco LLC, Memphis, Tenn.. Subcontractors included E. Cornell Malone Corporation of Jackson, Miss., which completed the prison’s roof insulation, membrane and related metal trim and flashings. Work began in September 2010.

“This project carried through the winter months, which made it virtually impossible to roof,” explained E. Cornell Malone, contract administrator, Shannon Sumrall. “Projecting up to this time and prioritizing the buildings was a necessity to keep other trades busy and maintain the project schedule. There were 16 buildings composed of concrete, wood and steel decks. Though all have a two-ply SBS system, assemblies were different for each deck type. Staying organized and focused was a must.”

Sumrall said 50-ft. (15 m) reach forklifts were used for loading materials to roof areas. More than 640,000 sq. ft. (59,458 sq m) of roof membranes were needed. The roof system is composed of minimum R-21.7 insulation values with a reflective SopraStar Cap sheet manufactured by Soprema.

The Bledsoe County prison will house mostly medium-security prisoners. One of the most interesting designs involved a pair of tunnels that serve as the sole entrance and exit for the prison. The tunnels, going under fences, reportedly connect to the main prison without interrupting a perimeter road around the structure. Employees, visitors and prisoners entering or exiting the site will pass through the central control area’s prison staff. Bledsoe is one of only two prisons in the state that have incorporated such a system so far.

Once the prison is ready to officially open its doors early next year, the inmates will be mostly state prisoners now housed in county jails in different regions of the state. Although most will be medium security, there will be a housing unit for prisoners classified higher than medium security and a unit to house minimum-security inmates.

Considered one of the state’s largest ongoing construction projects, the Bledsoe County prison is being built on 2,200 acres of the Cumberland Plateau. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Corrections say the additional jobs created by the expansion will help to put residents of Bledsoe County to work. They also report that the new facility should be completed by November 2012, with the prison expected to receive its first inmates beginning in January of 2013.