Nina Bense

The CSP-SAC HCFIP (California State Prison, Sacramento - Health Care Facilities Improvement Program) project is part of a program mandated via State Assembly Bill 900 (AB900) to make improvements to the healthcare facilities throughout various correctional institutions in the State of California. These improvements include remodels to existing facilities and construction of new buildings all within the secure perimeter of active state prisons. One of the prime directives is that the active construction cannot disrupt the business operations or programs of the institution. Work for HCFIP is performed by various forces such as the IWL (Inmate Ward Labor) Programs as well as General Contractors. The SAC HCFIP project includes construction of two new buildings that tie-into and are accessed through existing active housing yards.

Nina Besne, AIA, is LiRo's Project Manager in a Joint Venture with Swinerton Management & Consulting. Working with LiRo Project Engineer Tyrone Coates, she acts as an extension to the client to monitor and resolve issues, and to do whatever is necessary to keep the project moving forward. Nina makes sure all the requirements of the governing agencies (OSFM, OSHPD, CDCR, etc.) are captured and adhered to and also coordinates with an enormous body of stakeholders in regards to their requirements. She also provides in-depth status, budget, and schedule reports to the client, and is stationed onsite to play a daily role in resolving constructability issues and guide the team to work more collaboratively.


The Health Care Facility Improvement Program (HCFIP) aims at providing improvements to the State of California's correctional facilities. What are some notable enhancements taking place behind the prison walls?

The HCFIP projects typically involve both new construction and remodel of existing facilities across numerous institutions. In general, the projects aim to provide appropriate healthcare facilities, specialty exam, and triage treatment area (TTA) for specific inmate-patient populations. Depending on the level of care being provided at a particular institution, this could include new OSHPD licensed pharmacies, medical distribution windows, dental operatory, and telemed exam and treatment rooms. These projects often trigger ADA and infrastructure upgrades. Often times they dovetail into other smaller HCFIP projects executed by inmate ward labor (IWL) teams.

The Construction Manager always plays a crucial role on a project and is responsible for a multitude of tasks. Given this work environment, is the role even more vital and how so?

Of course! I always liken the delivery of a project to a Tour de France race. You should have a peloton, which is a large pack of riders all peddling like mad. Every once in a while in the peloton someone breaks out to change positions or modify the pace. Like the SEOR answers an RFI or an Inspector notices an issue, but you need a few riders out in front of the peloton to really set the pace and lead the race. This is where I think the CM should be. Our client, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is extremely demanding. There are an unnerving number of stakeholders to be included and the requirements and processes are intimidating to say the least. Many of the small to mid-size General Contractors who would go after these hard bid jobs find it overwhelming...these projects need a champion to facilitate progress, and help the team be successful. It is not just about reporting status, it's about making a difference to optimize cost, time and quality.

Working on a wide-range of facilities and being subjected to different security measures is nothing new for anyone in the A/ E/ C Industry. What types of daily precautions are you and your team subjected to at the maximum security state prison?

Well, it is a maximum security prison. There is a detailed system of accountability constantly in play. Your movements are tracked and the items you carry with you in and out should be accounted for at all times (keys, identification, even any extra clothing like a jacket or hat). Surprisingly, you get used to it in a couple months. When I see the custody officers and the way they work with the inmates, it does remind me that I am in a level IV facility and my procedures are all pretty simple in comparison!

Is there any special training or orientation workers have to take on how to handle any incidents that could occur with the prisoners?

There is an "In Service Training" session that addresses security protocol and a few different scenarios. There are things that can inadvertently get you 'walked off' if you are in the proximity of inmates. For the most part, if there is any type of incident, you want to distinguish yourself from the inmate population.

What is a day-in-the-life like working on this project?

To understand a "day-in-the-life" consider an average work day without so many things that we take for granted: denim, (in fact any blue clothes at all), phones, laptops, metal, glass, anything sharp, unrestricted entering and exiting to your office or work site. Now imagine construction with no free access to stocked materials, tools, or the work area. Everything is inventoried and accounted for down to the fasteners, everything is performed under the constant escort of assigned correctional officers. Every delivery scheduled, everyone coming onsite must be identified and cleared. It is a huge challenge to the crews onsite.

What is your philosophy towards your work?

Festina lente or 'Make haste slowly'. Which is meant to illustrate a need for balance between urgency and diligence. I was introduced to this slogan by an old motorcycle racer; the association has always been a visceral connection to what can go wrong when you simply rush. You need the drive and the 'pause' very much like racing. I'm ashamed to say it wasn't until recently that I discovered it has been around awhile.

Communication is key within every organization and on each project. What suggestions would you offer other Construction Managers on effectively communicating with their team?

You can't know everything, so never assume anyone else does either. Ask questions. I also love writing down notes on a marker board during meetings – everyone can see it. If you have captured the discussion incorrectly it is addressed on the spot. Take a picture of the board when you're done.

Nina Bense & Tyrone Coats

Nina Besne enjoys a break with fellow LiRo employee Tyrone Coats while onsite at the California State Prison in Sacramento.

Nina Bense

Nina Besne is a licensed Architect who has held previous roles as Designer, Consultant, Owner's Representative, and General Contractor. A graduate of University of California, Berkeley, she has extensive experience with a variety of public works projects. Nina is a self-proclaimed foodie and part-time adventure seeker, with hobbies including music, stand-up paddle boarding, and motorcycling.

Featured Employees
Nina Bense, AIA

California State Prison, Sacramento - Health Care Facilities Improvement Program

Sacramento, California

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation