Business park eyed as site of new prison

November 17, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The next big project at the Cumberland Valley Business Park could be a new $30 million prison for Franklin County.

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday authorized sending a nonbinding letter of intent to the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority proposing the purchase of approximately 20 acres of land for a 445-bed prison. The authority, created by the county in the 1990s to manage surplus property from the realignment of Letterkenny Army Depot, owns the business park.

Steve Ohm, the prison project manager with the consulting firm Carter Goble Lee, said the site offers several advantages, including "more than adequate" electric, gas, water and sewer utilities. Excavation should be relatively inexpensive because of the geology, he said.


"There's ample space out on Franklin Farm Lane" for a new prison on county-owned land near the existing prison, Warden John Wetzel said. "The big thing that scares us off is the limestone."

"We just believe it's going to be cheaper at Letterkenny," Wetzel said.

Inmate work-release programs also could benefit by being close to businesses and industries in the park, Wetzel said.

"We could plug inmates into jobs that fill their needs and also fill the needs of the community," he said.

"It's an arrangement I know I will be supporting," said L. Michael Ross, a member of the authority's board of directors and president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. The extension of roads and utilities to the proposed site could encourage other businesses to build on undeveloped land nearby, he said.

"The prison itself is an employment center, and a recession-proof employment center," Ross said. About 35 businesses in the park employ approximately 700 people, he said.

Land costs, proximity to the courthouse, travel for employees and work-release inmates and public accessibility were among the issues examined in looking at potential sites, Assistant County Administrator Kelly Livermore said.

"We're not prepared to pay more than a nominal amount" for the land, Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said.

"We want to be a partner in any way we can," Ross said.

The business park is about five miles from the courthouse, twice the distance as the existing prison complex.

"I don't like the prospects of us being that far from the prison," said Sheriff Robert Wollyung, whose office transports prisoners. "We already have county land where the prison could be constructed."

It would also take police longer to respond in an emergency, Wollyung said. The existing prison is next to the Pennsylvania State Police barracks, he said, but a move to the business park will put the distance at about eight miles.

"We're breaking ground in May. Period," said Wetzel.

Regardless of where the prison is built, he said the timetable is set, with completion scheduled for the fall of 2006.

Earlier this year, the county approved a $39 million bond issue, which included $30 million for the prison. Wetzel said about $25 million is set aside for construction and $5 million for "soft costs," such as furnishings and equipment.

The prison will cover about 130,000 square feet with a two-tiered housing area and could be expanded to house 700 inmates, Ohm said.

The main prison building opened in the early 1970s and the work-release annex opened in 1992. The buildings have a design capacity of 194, but Wetzel said the county was holding 380 inmates Tuesday.

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