Gov. Jeff Colyer and other state and local officials attended an official groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning at the Lansing Correctional Facility, marking the start of a project that will rebuild much of the state’s oldest and largest prison.

Colyer said work on the original prison began during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s.

He said it is “long past due” that the facility be rebuilt.

The existing administration building, the original maximum security unit and the main tower will not be torn down.

Work has already begun tearing down the existing minimum security unit.

Secretary Joe Norwood of the Kansas Department of Corrections said the new facility will have “considerably better working conditions” for prison employees and improved conditions for inmates.

He said the hope is that in 18 to 20 months, the construction work will be completed.

“The work that goes on behind these walls is vital to the safety of our state and too often we don’t recognize the men and women of the Department of Corrections who perform these difficult jobs,” Colyer said. “With the rebuilding of this facility, we hope to make that job easier and more effective for them and we also hope to make it safer for them.”

Representatives of CoreCivic, a private prison provider, also attended the event.

In January, CoreCivic was awarded a 20-year lease agreement with the KDOC for a new 2,432-bed correctional facility in Lansing.

The state of Kansas will own the facility at the end of the lease.

Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, and a native of Lansing, said the facility is important to the local community, including generations of families who have worked at the prison.

“I’m proud to be part of a project that will result in a better and safer environment for folks who work at this facility and more humane for the individuals who are serving time at the facility,” he said.

CoreCivic presented a pair of $5,000 checks to the Lansing Educational Foundation and the Leavenworth Interfaith Community of Hope.

CoreCivic will be responsible for facility maintenance throughout the term of the lease.

Paul Neidlein, president of JE Dunn Construction, the general contractor for the project, said construction will require approximately 350,000 work hours.

“There’s going to be over 350,000 hours put into this project by people who live in this area,” he said.

Twitter: @LVTimesRountree