Renovating 12 institutional bathrooms may not sound complicated.
But picture this: You drive through double security gates into a compound with six buildings surrounded by electrified barbed wire fences and protected by armed guards.
Welcome to the Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, a Connecticut Department of Correction state corrections facility for men located in Enfield, Connecticut. Opened in 1985, this level-three medium-security facility provides a great emphasis on programming and provides a wide variety of educational opportunities, including culinary arts, machine tooling, small engine repair, and community college courses.
The correctional facility desperately needed bathroom makeovers, and LaRosa was awarded the bid to renovate 12 facility bathrooms.
“The project was a total demolition job. We rebuilt the communal bathrooms from the ground up, including new pipes, framing, floors, walls, metal studs, sinks, toilets, showers, and HVAC ducts. We also installed a system so in case there is a security issue, everything can be automatically shut down,” explained Dwayne Peart, Project Superintendent, LaRosa Groups.
Before we explain the unique challenges of this occupied-renovation project, we thought it was important to share the interesting differences between a prison, jail, and correctional facility.
A jail is typically a short-term holding facility used for those individuals who have just been arrested or are waiting for trial or sentencing. Prisons generally house people who have been convicted of a crime. A correctional facility is a prison that focuses on rehabilitation.
Because this prison is a Correctional Institution, our client was the Department of Corrections (DOC). The Connecticut Department of Administrative Services (DAS) handles the renovations for the State, and Jacobs Project Management Co. is the owner’s representative.
Working with several government agencies was unexpectedly uncomplicated.
“It has been a great partnership. The government agencies have been very accommodating and responsive, and we have enjoyed working with them,” explained James LaRosa, CEO of LaRosa Groups.
Our experienced team is used to navigating the challenges relating to supply shortages, delivery delays, and inclement weather. But the six challenges we faced were more logistical and uniquely related to renovating an occupied Correctional Facility:
Entry and egress: While the inmates were not residing in the building we were renovating, they were in the same compound. Consequently, we had to go through extreme security measures to get in and out of the compound each day.
“There are only certain times of day you can leave, and you are at the mercy of the corrections officers to allow you in and out. If the corrections facility goes into lockdown, you are stuck until the compound reopens,” explained Romolo Santilli, Senior Project Manager, LaRosa Groups.
Communication: No cell phones are allowed within the corrections facility walls. “Once we are in-house, there is no communication with the outside world until we leave the compound. It may sound old-fashioned, but we learned to utilize landlines within the buildings and two-way radios,” added Romolo Santilli.
Security inspections: All deliveries and vehicles needed to be inspected by the security guards. “They checked the engine compartment, undercarriage, opened all the doors, and trunk and understandably checked anywhere an individual, ammunition, contraband or drugs could be stowed. These inspections caused major time loss in the morning and at the end of the day,” Santilli explained.
End-of-day procedures: Everything had to be locked up at the end of the day, including the dumpster and port-o-potty. Locking up any place where an inmate could hide was a time-consuming process that added additional time to an already-tight schedule.
Sequencing: When we started the renovation, an entire building had to be cleared so we could start working. When we complete one building, we go right to the next or do all the demolition at once. In this occupied renovation project, we had to wait until they moved the prisoners back into the renovated building before we could proceed to the next building. The move had to be coordinated with the Corrections Facility and the Department of Corrections (DOC). “That waiting period was not accounted for in our projections and put us about two weeks behind schedule. We could not schedule weekend work or overtime, so it was difficult to make up for the lost time,“ explained Santilli.
Logistics: It isn't easy to keep all your materials where you are working. In the first four buildings, we could not keep our Conex boxes inside the facility for security reasons. Every night, we had to account for all our materials to ensure none were left behind for possible inmate use. “When we finished the building, the security team would do a complete inspection, including the roof, to make sure not even a nail or screw would be left behind,” explained Peart.
With all the challenges, there was one important takeaway highlight from the project: the value of teamwork and the importance of brainstorming with the workers on the site.
In the first phase, no one anticipated how involved it was to work in a correctional facility. We were five weeks behind schedule without the ability to work overtime or weekends. We collaborated closely with the vendors and tried to proactively anticipate delays. But what really worked was a roundtable discussion with the foremen working on the site. We asked for their input on how to move this project along easier and faster.
Everyone shared their ideas, and we figured out how to fix them.
“Working as a team and brainstorming with the construction staff is a good way to overcome obstacles,” explained James LaRosa, CEO of LaRosa Groups.
LaRosa Building Group is a leader in new construction and renovation of municipal and government facilities. Past municipal and government projects include public safety facilities, training facilities, transportation facilities, and specialized weapons storage facilities.
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