Planning and design of an $8 million Health Services Unit at the Racine Correctional Institution, 2019 Wisconsin St., is set to begin.

The State of Wisconsin Building Commission approved the project on Wednesday. State officials say the project is needed because over 30 percent of the 1,550 inmates have been diagnosed with one or more chronic illnesses, according to state documents.

The project includes construction of a Health Services Unit, which includes medical, dental and therapeutic services. A medium security prison, inmates that need off-side medical care are often transferred to RCI because of its proximity to University Hospital and Clinics in Madison.

“The State Building Commission approved a number of key projects, which will positively impact the state’s ability to provide core services to Wisconsin residents,” said Governor Scott Walker. “I would like to thank the members of the Building Commission for taking action on these projects, which will improve facilities throughout Wisconsin.”

The facility was originally built as a boys boarding school and converted to a prison in 1991 to house 650 male offenders.

The inmate population has increased medical needs because it is growing older and they have a significant number of inmates that use wheelchairs and other devices for mobility.

“Insufficient space and inefficient layout of the HSU contribute to a wide variety of concerns relating to safety, effectiveness and efficiency of staff, security of the institution, and inmate health care.  Additionally, the HSU has limited ADA accessibility as it is presently located on the second floor,” according to state documents outlining the reasoning behind the project.

Construction on the project is set to begin June 2018 and be completed in October 2019. The project was approved by State Legislators in 2015.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.