The U.S. state prison population may be at its lowest level since 1972, but the federal inmate populace has reached an all-time high, according to 2010 survey data compiled by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States in partnership with the Association of State Correctional Administrators. To help house some of the nation’s more than 217,000 federal offenders, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, recently constructed a $247-million Federal Correction Institution in Berlin, N.H. (FCI Berlin).

The medium-security complex sits on 770 acres and consists of 25 buildings, including three 4-story general housing units, a 2-story special housing unit, and numerous 1-story facilities for educational, vocational, health, administrative, and food services.

“FCI Berlin is one of the largest public works projects in the history of New Hampshire,” notes Michael Murphy, senior project manager for Holliston, Mass.-based Wayne J. Griffin Electric, the contractor that performed the electrical installations at the complex. “Presently, it is the BOP’s only facility in northern New England.

Due to the scope of the project, Griffin spent more than two years completing its work. Large-scale work included 35kV and 15kV site power distribution and emergency generation equipment, including two 2,000kW, 12,470V generators.

“Each of the buildings features its own padmount transformer and sectionalizing switchgear,” says Murphy.

Other installation work included interior distribution and lighting systems, paralleling switchgear, extensive lightning protection and grounding systems, as well as UPS systems and high-mast site lighting. Furthermore, Griffin completed all infrastructure work for the stringent security, fire alarm, and communications systems required within the 572,000-sq-ft compound.

According to Murphy, his company also installed more than 400,000 ft of overhead and in-wall conduit,
677,000 ft of underground conduit, 98,000 ft of high-voltage cable, and 5,500 luminaires.

“Lamp types installed include T8s, T5s, CFLs and HIDs,” he adds.

In addition to the sheer size of the project, Griffin employees faced several other obstacles, the foremost of which included extreme weather and the remote location.

“FCI Berlin is located north of the White Mountains, so winter arrives early and stays late,” explains Murphy. “We overcame this challenge by thoroughly planning, working hard, and making the best use of what limited good weather there was to complete our outdoor work. We also adapted the schedule so that we were performing inside work most of the winter, so that snow, ice, and extreme temperatures presented less of a hazard to employees.”

The project’s remote location added the additional challenge of a limited local workforce.

“Because of the limited availability of local electricians, we relocated more of our people from other New England states than we typically do to work on a project. Our crew maxed out around 65, and at peak we had approximately 40 relocated employees working in Berlin.”

Despite the challenges, Griffin finished its portion of the project on schedule. When fully staffed, FCI Berlin is expected to add 300 jobs to the community and more than $40 million to the local economy.