New N.H. men’s prison estimate at $600M

Razor wire hangs from the fence at the reception area at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, N.H., Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Razor wire hangs from the fence at the reception area at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, N.H., Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Charles Krupa/AP file photo

By CHARLOTTE MATHERLY

Monitor staff

Published: 07-10-2024 4:42 PM

Modified: 07-10-2024 7:34 PM


The state’s Executive Council unanimously approved funding for the first step in building a new men’s state prison – something Councilor Joseph Kenney anticipates could be the largest capital project in New Hampshire history.

With the prison’s expected overall cost landing between $500 and $600 million, the council awarded a $9.1 million contract to Nebraska-based architecture firm DLR Group on Wednesday to begin the design process. This includes geological analysis, recommendations to meet infrastructure demands, a preliminary design layout and a master plan for the project. More than $800,000 was also approved for contingency and public works fees, bringing this first allotment to just under $10 million.

Architecture, engineering and design will total around $50 million. The remaining funding for this phase, to be financed with bonds, is attached to a separate bill that Gov. Chris Sununu has yet to sign. 

“Unfortunately, it’s taken us a long time to garner the support to recognize that the situation is we’re really throwing good money at a bad infrastructure,” said Helen Hanks, the Department of Corrections commissioner. “We should be throwing good money at an efficient facility that augments our staffing, that uses technology, that has rehabilitation at the center of it and wellness at the center of it.”

The existing men’s prison was built in 1878, last renovated in the 1980s and has long been subject to infrastructure issues, including poor conditions and security concerns, officials said. The state had planned to address these issues long ago, but a 2012 lawsuit over unequal conditions and services at the women’s prison launched that facility to the front of the queue.

The women’s prison cost $52 million, Hanks said, but it was a drastically smaller project. That building had 100,000 square feet with 224 beds, as opposed to the approximately 500,000 square feet for the new men’s facility with 1,500 beds. The current one has a capacity of 1,408.

Sununu said that despite the cost, the need for a new men’s facility is “so severe.” In comments after the meeting, he said it needs newer technology and mentioned holes in the walls that have required repair. 

“I fear that the state will be in a lawsuit situation because of the conditions there,” Sununu said. “It really is important that we take the next steps and kind of whiteboard this out, do it right in a more modern, humanitarian way, a more efficient way.”

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Prison inspection records show problems with rats, mold, and expired meat in the kitchen, among the many health and safety violations at the men’s prison, according to a report from InDepthNH

Sununu said the longer the state waits, the more the project will cost. Had New Hampshire started this a few years ago, he estimates it could’ve saved more than $200 million.

Hanks said her department is scouting a site of more than 300 acres directly behind the women’s prison, close to North State Street in Concord. That land is already owned by the state, she said. 

Hanks projected three to five years to complete the development, and the design stage will take about a year. As for next steps, Sununu said the state legislature will need to consider a long-term bond to pay for the project and alluded that the price could continue to rise.

“If you got a contract to build a new prison today, you’re still looking years away because it’s a major build,” Sununu said. “It’s going to take years to get there, which is why you gotta start,  like, yesterday.”