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TranSystems gets recommendation to design new Pa. county prison

Picking a firm with correctional facility design experience is an important decision in multiyear process to build a new Lancaster county prison


The new prison complex is planned to be built on a 78-acre farm.

Lancaster County Prison

By Tom Lisi

LANCASTER, Pa. — A committee in charge of advising Lancaster County commissioners which firm to choose to design and build a new prison is recommending they stick with the company that built the last addition to Lancaster County Prison in the 1990s.

Thirty years after the Cambria County architecture firm L.R. Kimball designed the expansion of Lancaster County Prison, its new parent company, Kansas City-based TranSystems, won a recommendation from county officials Tuesday.

The recommendation was presented Tuesday by county Purchasing Director Linda Schreiner, who said the committee favors TranSystems because it has more experience with building new prisons versus renovations of existing ones, more experience with jail designs involving mental health and health care, and existing relationships with the county’s engineering firm, Rettew, and the county’s consultant for building the new prison, CGL.

Commissioners will make a final decision on a design firm in two weeks, they said. The period in between gives them a chance to review the evaluation committee’s choice and the proposals of the three final candidates for the design work.

TranSystems is a national construction and engineering firm specializing in infrastructure projects involving complex systems, such as ports, highways and train stations.

Two years ago, the company bought L.R. Kimball, a Cambria County-based architecture firm with a long record of building prisons in Pennsylvania. L.R. Kimball built the Allegheny County Jail in 1995 and an expansion of Lancaster County Prison — the high-rise where most prisoners are now housed — in the early 1990s. It also has built prisons in Butler, Centre and Franklin counties, among others.

Schreiner’s six-minute overview included a statistic TranSystems provided in a May presentation to the board of commissioners: that it had done corrections design work in 41 Pennsylvania counties.

No other data, research or statistics were included in Tuesday’s presentation, such as how many prisons TranSystems has built versus the other firms.

The other two contending firms that presented in front of commissioners in May were Virginia-based Dewberry and Berks County-based STV Inc. Those two firms also touted their decades of experience building correctional facilities.

Schreiner said TranSystems was behind an innovative design for a mental health housing unit, in which a supervisor can see all cells from one vantage point, something the company pointed out in its May presentation to the commissioners.

“The most important aspect to me as the warden is the mental health environment, how they own that concept and are bringing new ideas to the table,” Warden Cheryl Steberger said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The evaluation committee was made up of county officials representing the chief clerk, solicitor, prison warden, prison security, prison services, the county budget department, the director of general services and a county public information officer, according to Schreiner. It is the county’s policy not to publicize the names of committee members who vet vendor proposals for services sought by the county, Schreiner said.

By keeping the individuals’ names secret, Schreiner said, the committee members can’t be inappropriately targeted or influenced by bidders or other third parties. And much like a jury trial, the evaluation committee is directed not to do any outside research or glean any information about the firms outside of their bids, Schreiner said.

Neither the purchasing department nor the board of commissioners office had any influence over the process, Schreiner said, and the committee members individually made TranSystems their top choice for the job without the knowledge of others’ choices.

The county received four bids in response to its request for design teams back in April. The evaluation committee selected three firms to make their case in a public presentation to the board of commissioners in May.

LNP — LancasterOnline filed a public records request for copies of all four bids, but was denied on the grounds that the information was for decision-making purposes, an exemption under state open records laws.

County officials have called the selection of a design firm one of the most important decisions in the multiyear process to build a new facility to replace the existing county prison on East King Street in Lancaster. The new complex is slated to be built on a 78-acre farm in Lancaster Township.

Schreiner said the evaluation committee met at least once a week in the beginning stages of the evaluation and spent hours vetting each proposal.

Originally slated for July, the committee’s recommendation came a day after Labor Day because the purchasing department wanted to make sure every reference check of TranSystems was completed, Schreiner said.


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