Not your ordinary ribbon cutting for not your ordinary project; hacksaws used to open new work release housing

Officials use hacksaws to cut through rebar during Purgatory Correctional Facility's Community Corrections Center ribbon-cutting ceremony, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

HURRICANE – With construction completed, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to usher in a single level, 14,000 square foot, low security detention facility in Hurricane, now known as the Community Corrections Center, which replaces the dilapidated modular structures that are 16 years out of date.

Instead of a customary ribbon-cutting ceremony, a piece of rebar was placed between two posts adorned with bows, and scissors were replaced by hacksaws and bolt-cutters, “since we are in a jail setting here,” Washington County Commissioner, Zachary D. Renstrom announced to the crowd.

Standing room only crowd attends Purgatory Correctional Facility’s Community Corrections Center at ribbon-cutting ceremony, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The Community Corrections Center replaces the current work release units, which were intended to be a temporary solution in 2002, but the condition of the modules has steadily deteriorated. As an example, in one module in particular, there were three bathrooms for more than 60 inmates, and two of those restrooms were not entirely operational, Washington County Sheriff, Cory Pulsipher said.

The Washington County Commission approved the project in September 2017, which Pulsipher explained was actually earlier than projected, as the new facility was slated for 2020.

“The County Commissioners understood the need,” he said, “and they’ve been great about working with us on the project.”

Further, Purgatory Correctional Facility was paid off this year, and after the Washington County Commissioners toured the temporary housing modules, they approved the funding to build a permanent housing unit for the low-risk inmates.

Groundbreaking took place in February. Naylor Wentworth Lund, based out of St. George, was the architect on the project, with Hughes Construction Inc., headquartered out of North Salt Lake, the general contractor.

The facility was completed “on time and on budget,” Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox announced during the ceremony, as several awards were presented to both firms for accomplishing both.

The $2 million, 14,000-square-foot building has two large, open dorms, which hold 60 bunks each, in addition to laundry, dining, bathroom and shower facilities. The new facility has a capacity of up to 128 inmates and is designed for expansion if needed.

Currently, there are 120 inmates who would be housed here, most of whom are participating in the inmate work program. These low-risk inmates typically have four to six years left on their prison sentences but have worked their way through the system and received clearances to join work crews. Many can be seen around Washington County, cleaning up trash along highways, gardening in parks and at public facilities and doing other general labor.

First dorm that will house 60 inmates at Purgatory Correctional Facility’s Community Corrections Center, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

This program provides inmates with jobs and work experience that will help them transition back into society. In addition, a portion of the revenue generated from the inmate work program is used to help offset some of the incarceration costs associated with the inmate workers.

Due to a lack of beds within the state prison system, Washington County is one of 21 counties in Utah that contract with the state to house state inmates – and has for years, according to a 2015 report prepared by MGT of America under contract with the state Prison Relocation and Development Authority.

Pulsipher said that housing state inmates at Purgatory goes back to the beginning, during construction of the jail, which was completed in 1998 at a cost of nearly $11.6 million.

“One interesting point here is that we have increased the number of state inmates housed in Purgatory because the local inmate numbers have not increased here in Washington County,” he said “Instead, they have remained steady even with the population growth the area is experiencing.”

Pulsipher pointed to the fact that crime numbers are on the rise in many areas throughout the country.

“The fact that county inmate numbers have not experienced an increase says a lot for the communities here in Washington County that we serve – there are amazing people here.”

Rob Christiansen, project superintendent with Hughes Construction has been on the job since Feb. 6, about two weeks before the project officially started, and told St. George News that even though the project was completed “right on schedule,” one of the biggest hurdles during the project was the lead-time on building materials.

Christiansen explained that the housing units required specific materials appropriate for a high-security detention center, including bullet-proof glass throughout the building, as well as reinforced doors and other support structures.

“It’s not like we can just go to a glass place and order glass,” he said. “It all needed to be bullet-proof, and door frames had to be a certain thickness, enhanced fire protection, and so on.”

One significant benefit while working on the facility was the open communication between the Sheriff’s Office and the builders, which made the entire project run more efficiently and eliminated unnecessary delays.

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