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RAWLINS, Wyo. (AP) – A study of the Wyoming State Penitentiary’s 20-year-old facility began this week to determine whether it can remain open.

The study began after the Department of Corrections moved all inmates out of the North Unit on Tuesday. Many were transferred into a new max-imum security addition, the South Unit.

“The transition went really smoothly,” said Melinda Brazzale, Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened a lawsuit if the state does not correct safety problems at the North Unit, such as a lack of sprinklers.

Dave LaPlante, construction project manager, said the study will go beyond safety to look at future needs.

The size of the facility sug-gests the state has a vested inter-est in keeping it open, he said.

“We have almost half a mil-lion feet here of 20-year-old con-struction and we have to get the best bang for the buck,” he said. “Our emphasis is to save the north facility.”

The study will be conducted in phases, with the first phase exploring the location of the facility, soil acidity and the amount and flow of groundwa-ter.

The next step is to inventory assets and problems in the facili-ty. A subsequent phase will look at the number of beds, prison industries, health care and other services that will be needed.

A contractor will come up with a detailed cost estimate for building a new facility, LaPlante said.

The study is expected to be completed Dec. 7 so a report can be submitted to legislators in time for the 2002 session.

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