The contract for the design and location of a new prison to replace Her Majesty's Penitentiary has been awarded.

The provincial government has chosen Parkin Architects, a Canadian company with offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, for the job.

The contract is worth an estimated $235,000.

Parkin boasts a 60-year history of developing structures for health care, recreational, research, justice and other institutional clients.

The company also has a history in St. John's, having designed both City Hall and the Health Sciences Centre.

Parkin lists a number of recent high-profile projects on its resume, including the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., McMaster Children's Hospital, and the Dufferin County court house in Orangeville, Ont.

Local firms John Hearn Architect Inc., and Kavanagh Associates will also be involved in the process to design and find a home for the new prison.

Justice Minister Darin King said work will begin immediately to identify the types of spaces required to offer the necessary programs and services required in a modern correctional facility.

"The time has come to replace Her Majesty's Penitentiary, and while this is the first step, it is an important one," King said. "Ultimately, a new facility will improve safety for staff and inmates while also providing enhanced rehabilitation services."

Specifications

The contract calls for a conceptual floor plan, suggested site location, model implementation schedule and project cost estimate.

The government did not release any timelines for construction or opening of the new prison, saying that will become clearer once the design stage is complete, and a site is identified.

King said thorough consultations will also be part of the process.

"It is important that we gather input from those who will be directly impacted by the new penitentiary, and a broad cross-section of employees and community groups will be consulted as the process moves forward."

Critics of the current penitentiary have long pushed for a replacement, noting the current facility is unsafe for both staff and inmates.

Her Majesty's Penitentiary first opened in 1859 in the east end of St. John's, overlooking Quidi Vidi Lake.

Today, it houses both provincial and federal inmates with a capacity for 175 male offenders.

As of Monday the government said there were 155 inmates at the pen.