March 17, 2016

County considers borrowing for jail design

Associate Editor

Cortland County legislators will consider on March 31 whether to borrow $1.9 million for design and environmental review for a new $38.5 million jail.
The Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which has overseen the jail siting process, met this morning to discuss a resolution authorizing the bond, but results were not available by press time.
Committee Chairman Richard Bush-nell (D-Cortland), said the $38.5 mil-lion is, at best, a guess, and the$1.9 million bond would be wrapped into later project costs.
“We can’t really tell until the bids come back,” Bushnell said thismorning. “We really can’t put any price tag on it.”
The $38.5 million figure comes from a report issued last August making the case for a new jail, based in part upon St. Lawrence County’s jail, which was estimated at $35 million but actually cost $32.5 million, Bushnell said. The total cost, which would be determined as part of the design and review process, will be more certain in a year.
The county already has land for the proposed facility. DMK Development of Michigan donated 73 acres on Route 13 in Cortlandville adjacent to the Tractor Supply Co. The 150-bed facility — which would include the jail, sheriff’s department offices and dispatch center — would occupy about 10 acres of the lot about 800 feet back from the road.
The property is assessed at $132,200, although county official said the donation saved it about $2 million in land acquisition costs. That leaves it to spend an estimated $1.9 million for surveys, preliminary and detailed plans, other estimates and an environmental review governed by the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The county has determined that the project is a Type II project, which does not require an environmental impact statement.
Sheriff Mark Helms and other county officials, including Bushnell, toured the St. Lawrence County Jail in Canton and found commercial development sprouted up around the jail after it was opened in 2009. The 164-bed, 93,000-square-foot facility sits on 22.5 acres, making it very similar to what Cortland County officials have in mind. It cost $32.5 million.
“It’s falling apart,” Bushnell said recently of Cortland’s jail, and it has been since long before he took office in 2009. “The can was kicked down the street too often.”
Phase II of the process would entail hiring SMRT Architects & Engineers of Latham, which did the pre-architectural plan, at an estimated cost of more than $3 million to draw up bid specifications and oversee the process.
The new facility would replace a 26-year-old, 50-bed jail in Cortland that has been renovated to house 93 inmates temporarily by spending $70,000 in 2014 to convert a gymnasium into dormitory space. However, the county still spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in extra housing costs and overtime to take prisoners to other jails when the county lacks room.
Those costs, now $90 per day per inmate, total $3.2 million since 2000, range from $12,500 in 2004 to $520,000 in 2013, states a county report. That cost would top $800,000 without the converted gymnasium.
Further, the existing jail needs between $2.5 million and $3 million in renovations and upgrades to continue housing its 93-person capacity for the next five years, states the report, completed in August 2015.
The proposed pod-based design would increase the guard-to-inmate ratio to 50:1 instead of the current 20:1, meaning three guards could oversee it at full capacity, rather than the five guards now. The new space also would allow the county to consolidate other operations into existing space, saving at least $88,000 a year, and perhaps more.

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