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December 22, 2014
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Forward motion on new Sullivan County Jail; competing plan sketched out

There is forward motion to build a new jail to replace the Sullivan County Jail, which is more than 100 years old, the oldest in the state.


Can the proposed new Sullivan County Jail be built for less than $75 or $80 million? According to Lawrence Goldberg, president of Goldberg Group Architects, the answer is “yes.”

Goldberg gave a presentation to the Sullivan County Legislature and other interested parties at the government center on January 14 and said his firm could bring in a new facility, which would comply with state requirements for a range of between $40 and $50 million. The figure, however, did not include, “fees, fixtures and expenses,” which Goldberg said would add cost, but the figure was clearly less that the figure put forward by LaBella Associates several years ago, which approached $80 million.

During the presentation, Goldberg said his firm has built jails in many states, and he ticked off a few examples, some being in the South and Midwest. He said New York State is unique in that it requires all new cells be built for single-person occupancy, though after some amount of time and with permission from the New York State Commission of Correction (COC), some of those cells may be used for double occupancy. In other states, most cells are designed to be used as double occupancy from the start.

Goldberg also spent some time talking about using steel cells, as opposed to concrete built-in-place, or prefabricated concrete cells. He said that recently he has been using steel cells, and with the proper treatment and coatings, they don’t rust. He said each concrete cell could cost up to $26,000, a prefabricated concrete cell would cost about $24,000 and a steel cell would cost about $17,000. The new jail will require 250 cells, so steel cells would result in a savings of more than $2 million.

After the presentation, Sheriff Mike Schiff spoke and said the estimate from LaBella Associates, which is now nearly eight years old, was for about $74 million and that included the cost of purchasing property on Old Route 17, which the county has done. He said his office was carefully reviewing both proposals.

Legislator Cindy Gieger, who has been a vocal opponent of bonding $80 million, the figure most often used for the cost of the LaBella proposal, said the presentation convinced her that alternatives to the LaBella plan were available and needed to be considered.

The LaBella plan is 80% to 90% complete, while the Goldberg plan is very preliminary. Chairman Scott Samuelson said both organizations should have another opportunity to present to the board, and legislators needed to confer to work on out the details of how that would play out.

County Treasurer Ira Cohen, who brought Goldberg to the attention of the legislature, disagreed that they should present again. He said the process was not a contest between the two, and instead, the sheriff’s office should put together the specifications of what is needed, and the county should issue a request for proposals (RFP).

Legislator Kathy LaBuda, who, as chair of the public works committee, has worked on the jail project longer than most others, said both companies should have the opportunity to present again, even if an RFP goes out. She also noted that the county has a contract with LaBella.

Samuelson said it was clear that an RFP would need to be issued.

The proposed new county jail has been an issue for decades, but for the past few years forward motion on the project was halted by the weak economy. Now, however, the county is facing payments of up to $1 million a year to board prisoners out to other jails because of space limitations. Further, the COC is demanding that the county move forward or face possible closure of the existing jail. Therefore there is new pressure on the legislature to take action.