OSWEGO, NY – What will become of the former Oswego County Jail?
Once a repository for lawbreakers, county officials are now banking on getting some sort of return from the site.
Oswego County Legislature Chairman Fred Beardsley appointed a special committee to explore possible options for the facility located at Route 481 and Churchill Road.
The chairman of the special committee is Legislator Morris Sorbello and the members are legislators Linda Lockwood and Jacob Mulcahey.
Wednesday’s organizational meeting was attended by a handful of other legislators (including Beardsley), the county administrator and county attorney.
The focus of the special committee is “to see what we can do with the old jail,” Sorbello said.
In his State of the County address, Beardsley said, “2012 will very likely see many more special committees than we have been accustomed to. It is my intent to task these committees, along with the Legislature’s standing committees, with specific agendas in an effort to find more efficient ways to utilize the taxpayers’ dollar. I am open and will remain open to suggestions from legislators regarding any issue they feel should be addressed. Again, all I ask is that the objective has a positive benefit to the taxpayer.”
“Basically, the jail (section of the site) is nothing but metal and concrete,” Sorbello said earlier on Wednesday, adding that it would be virtually impossible to cut through all that to renovate that part of the building into anything else.
The four-story front section was used for residential and offices, he noted.
“It has deteriorated to some degree as well,” he said.
“We’re going to look at the many options that we have,” he said. “Today is our first meeting. We are going to get organized. We have all toured the site. We are looking at our options; do we need to demolish the jail? Can we sell the property to a developer?”
“The building, the outside structure, is falling down,” Sorbello added. “The inside, believe me, my experience there, it’s built! It is really built, all iron and cement.”
Even though the county has had to send inmates to other facilities, at a cost, they cannot re-use the dozens of tiny cells in the old facility because they don’t meet the current standards for a jail, Sorbello pointed out.
“They are small individual cells and they are all metal, ceilings, side walls, the whole thing is all metal,” he said. “There is just no way you can do anything with it. It’s the type of construction you can’t do anything with. People may think you can saw through a wall, make room for other departments or whatever, but that’s not the case.”
How would he describe what it is like inside? “It’s a jail,” he replied bluntly. “A jail, some place you wouldn’t want to be!”
It is a prime piece of property, located along Route 481 with the river right behind it, he said.
The county DMV office is right next to the dilapidated jail; the records center is in the back of the office and “it is full, we need more space,” Sorbello said. And, the county’s property extends north several more yards, he added.
“If people went inside (and saw the condition of the building) they’d make up their minds in a hurry (about what to do with the building),” he said.
Debris are scattered throughout the building. Paint is peeling, as is wallpaper. A box full of daily planners from the early 1970s sits on a kitchen counter in the living quarters.
In his own personal opinion, Sorbello feels that demolition is the only way to go.
“We’re going to look at everything,” he added. “We will look at everything and talk to people, maybe get some help from the state or feds. We’ll weigh all of the options, that’s our job.”
At the committee meeting, legislators were updated as to the boundaries of the property and the likelihood that asbestos was still present inside.
County Attorney Richard Mitchell suggested an environmental study be conducted on the property to ensure there are no inactive underground fuel oil and gasoline tanks and whether there are any storm water sewer issues.
Legislator Jack Proud said the county should look into whether the site qualifies as a brownfield site, and if so, county could be in line for some funding assistance.
The site is located on prime riverfront property and any offers the county entertains for it should reflect that, committee member Legislator Jake Mulcahey said.
Beardsley agreed, adding the county needs to know the value of the site as they move forward.
“Then we can decide does the building stand, or do we take it down?” he added.
If someone does want to take the building down, “there is a lot of steel in it” that they could salvage, Sorbello noted.
He added that it will probably be about six months or so before the committee is ready to make a recommendation to the full legislature.
A date for the next meeting is yet to be scheduled.