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WCI Adds ’Guest’ Accommodations With 256 New Cells

Wed January 30, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Preparations are being made for a new kind of “guest” in Allegany County, MD. Currently, the South Compound of the Western Correctional Institution (WCI) in Cresaptown is a medium-security prison equipped for approximately 1,670 inmates. By the spring of 2002, a new section known as the North Branch will be ready with 256 cells to accommodate maximum-security inmates. In addition, the prison will create about 600 new jobs.

The $23.8-million job was awarded to C & M Contracting, Pittsburgh, PA, with funding coming mainly from the state of Maryland. The contract involves an 80,000 sq. ft. (7,200 sq m) precast housing unit, an emergency generator building, and a guard tower. At the same time, C & M is completing site demolition and setting utilities for two future buildings.

The project began in June 2000, with an original completion date of January 2002. However, David N. Bezanson, deputy secretary of Support Services at the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, reported that the project will probably be completed in April.

The prison is built at the site of the former Celanese, a synthetic fiber plant that was in operation from the 1920s to the 1980s. The vacant property was first used by various businesses, but was acquired as the prison site by the state of Maryland in 1993. According to Bezanson, “It was the best site in the county because it had the right topography — it was flat — and it already had sewer and water.” Demolition of the factory building cost approximately $2.5 million.

The original section of WCI opened in 1995, and was built under traditional construction techniques in multiple contracts. However, the current building uses the now-favored precast method.

“Modern prisons are leaning toward this method of pre-cast cells because of the repetitive nature of the system,” said Bezanson. He noted that this method saves both time and money. For this particular job, the crew was able to completely assemble all of the precast cell structures in six weeks.

Jim Peli, vice president of construction of C & M Contracting, said, “The entire superstructure of the building was fabricated off site. It’s made almost entirely of precast concrete. Buildings are normally done right on the spot, but this one was done in several locations and shipped to Cumberland to be assembled by Somerset Steel Erection. Engineering and planning had to be coordinated for about six months prior to actually fabricating the pieces. But it fit like a glove. The last panel was dropped in with the exact amount of tolerance needed to keep the building uniform.”

Pete Ford, superintendent of C & M, reported that two cranes were used by subcontractor Somerset Steel Erection Company, Somerset, PA, to set the pieces of the building in place. A 150-ton (135 t) Link-Belt was rented to aid in setting the precast cells, which weighed approximately 48,000 lbs. (21,600 kg) each. One module consists of two cells, each measuring 14 ft. 7 in. (4.4 m) by 11 ft. 6 in. (3.5 m) and 8 ft. 8 in. (2.7 m) high. Somerset Steel’s 50-ton (45 t) Grove crane was used to set the precast walls, hollow-core roof plank, and miscellaneous structural steel.

The North Branch building is the first phase in the expansion project. Bezanson reported that a $33-million support services building is going out for bid in December, and he is currently seeking funds for a duplication of the housing currently under construction.

In the future, the department plans to add additional prison space throughout the state to accommodate 4,000 inmates. Negotiations are being made with counties that want to be considered.

Including subcontractors, approximately 80 people are working on the North Branch job. Excavation work was subcontracted to Braddock Construction LLC, Midlothian, MD. Dave Weimer reported that approximately 300,000 cu. yds. (228,000 cu m) of dirt was moved for the project. He noted that this job was unique because of the scope of the work. Braddock did the original demolition of the Celanese plant.

“We took the buildings down to about a foot under the proposed elevation and left the foundations and utilities. Then we went back and demoed what was left in the ground. Every day was a new challenge because we didn’t know what we were going to hit. We found old smokestack bases — the concrete was astronomical — water cooling lines, and a water storage tank,” said Weimer.

Peli added, “There were a lot of unknowns below the surface. It took a lot longer to excavate and dispose of the old Celanese plant than originally planned. But substantial completion of the project should be accomplished by April.”

Braddock owns all the equipment used on the prison job. The equipment list includes a Hitachi 700 excavator, two Cat 769C off-road trucks, two PC 300 excavators, a PC 200 excavator, a PC 120 excavator, a Komatsu 135 dozer, a Komatsu 41 dozer, a Cat 953 track loader, a Komatsu 250 rubber-tired loader, an 815 soil compactor, and an Ingersoll-Rand SD 100 smooth drum roller.

Other major subcontractors include R. H. Lapp, Cumberland, MD, for heating and plumbing; Hayes Contractors Inc., Ridgeley, WV, for concrete work; Tennessee Precast, Cumberland City, TN, for the walls; Rotundo Weirwick, Brownsville, PA, for the precast cells; Norment Security Group, Montgomery, AL, for the security system; Hite Roofing, Cresaptown, for the roofing; Hetrick Masonry, Corriganville, MD, for the masonry work; L.C. Whitford Co. Inc., Washington, NY, for the security fence; and Brewer & Co., Morgantown, WV, for fire protection.

Frank C. Sizer will serve as warden of the North Branch. He was the original warden of WCI from its opening in October 1995 to April 1999, when he was named deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He requested a voluntary downgrade from that position to serve as warden in Cresaptown.

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