Public Works Manager Gus Nunez on Thursday recommended a capital improvement projects budget that includes building a new execution chamber at the Ely State Prison.
The historic execution chamber is the former gas chamber at the now-closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Experts have said under new court rulings it may well be impossible to conduct future executions in Carson and, at present, there are more than 100 inmates on death row in Nevada.
Director of Administration Jeff Mohlenkamp said one major security advantage of building a new chamber in Ely is that those inmates are all housed there, since it's Nevada's maximum security institution. In the past, inmates had to be transported from Ely to Carson City when an execution order was issued.
According to the proposed project list, constructing an execution chamber in the Ely prison administration building would cost $692,289. That is far less than the $5.3 million estimate to build a new execution building in Southern Nevada.
Mohlenkamp, formerly the chief fiscal officer for the Department of Corrections, said the getting a new chamber - for less than $1 million that meets court-imposed standards - would be a bargain if the state was instructed by the courts to execute one of the death row inmates.
Prison spokesman Brian Connett said the plans for the execution chamber are based on the California design that has already been accepted by the 9th Circuit Court. Connett said the center will take up about 1,900 square feet of the existing administration building. He is hoping the upgrade is included in the 2014 budget.
The new execution chamber was part of a $127 million package of projects recommended by Nunez for the coming biennium. Of that total, just $79.8 million is state general fund money. Most of the rest, more than $30 million, is highway fund money.
Mohlenkamp said he doesn't yet know exactly how much money will be available for the list of projects but will have to develop an estimate by Oct. 1.
He said his office is trying to get creative because there really isn't any capacity for new bonding of projects for at least the next few years.
Nunez told the board whatever of money available will be used first on life safety and legal issues such as disability access, security issues, HVAC and electrical work and projects to prevent deterioration of state facilities.
He said one example is replacing the access bridge at the Caliente Youth Center - one of Nevada's juvenile offender institutions. He said that bridge is the only access and that, "during flooding in the past they've had to evacuate the kids by helicopter."
The life safety list, including just more than $3 million in ADA projects, totals $11.4 million.
Most of the $10.2 million in security projects goes to the prison system. That list does include renovation of the control room at Lakes Crossing, the high security facility for mentally ill and dangerous offenders.
"These projects we feel will help keep facilities functioning in a safe environment for state employees," he said.
One project that, again, is expected to be postponed is the new hotel college building at UNLV. College officials have that as one of their top priorities because they are concerned Harrah's Corp. may back out of its promise to fund half the estimated $50 million cost of the college but Nunez said there just isn't the money at this point.
HVAC and electrical work is projected to consume about $25 million of the total available and preventative maintenance some $17 million.
The Public Works Board took no action on the recommendations presented Thursday. They meet again Sept. 18 to try finalize the list.