A new administrative building is part of a $141 million project to update and improve the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Contributed / Gary LaPlante

Modernizing a century-old prison by constructing new buildings and demolishing others is complicated when that prison is fully operating, but completion of the work at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham is expected be completed by August 2022, just off the original June 2022 target date.

The $141 million state funded project, which began in December 2018, will “improve on the programs, services and facilities” and “replace old antiquated structures that have surpassed their useful life cycle,” according to Gary LaPlante, director of operations for the Department of Corrections.

While pandemic supply shortages and higher costs have prompted some changes to initial plans, the main challenge has been logistical because the correctional center is in such close proximity to the construction, LaPlante said.

Maine Correctional Center’s director of security said the interior sitework of the project has been aided by frequent meeting with construction workers and cooperation from prisoners. Contributed / Gary LaPlante

“Building a prison on top of an existing one creates some complexities that we have had to work through,” he said.

Correctional center staff have managed daily operations with little impact due to frequent meetings with construction manager Cianbro and their subcontractors and because prisoners have been cooperative, said MCC Director of Security Nathan Thayer.

“As long as we know what they are doing,” he said of the construction crews, “we can control our movements to make things as safe as possible.”

The project, once completed, will provide for a more efficient operation because residents won’t have to move from building to building so often, Thayer said. The prison can accommodate up to 650 prisoners.

“Everything is everywhere, so we have a lot of movement and it can be hard to control,” he said.

Some of the buildings will be renovated and repurposed, but others that date back to the 1920s when the minimum and medium security facility first opened will be demolished.

The construction of a 20,000-square-foot maintenance and central plant building is finished, and the program and activities building will be completed by next month, LaPlante said.

Much of the program and activity spaces now are on the top floor of an aging three-story building. The new building will include space for the work-ready program, a barber shop, library, legal services and computer lab. It will also have an expanded classroom area for prisoners working toward high school diplomas or college credits.

The project’s final two buildings are now under construction and are expected to be finished in February 2022. They are an administration building to house a visiting area,  laundry facilities, food services and medical center and a 240-unit housing building to replace the current, outdated facility.

LaPlante said the pandemic has caused delays getting materials and, along with rising construction costs, forced the department to scale back the extent of renovations to existing buildings.

A building the correctional center uses for medical services will be renovated into a housing unit with office and programming space, he said. Four housing buildings, as well as the kitchen/dining room, vocational and mailroom buildings will be demolished. Three existing housing buildings, as well as the industries building and the gymnasium will continue to be used after the project is completed.

Prior to this project, the last construction on the property was in 2016, when the 98-bed Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center was constructed on River Road for women beginning to transition out of incarceration.

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