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Dan Hust | Democrat

Sullivan County Jail Administrator Lt. Hal Smith gives his take on the possibilities and pitfalls of the annex as a jail facility.

Annex gets a look

By Dan Hust
FALLSBURG — February 23, 2010 — County leaders paid a visit to a now-closed annex of the state’s Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg on Thursday.
Eyeing it as the potential site of the new county jail, they came away with both interest and concern.
“You’ve given us hope,” noted Legislator Ron Hiatt to Sullivan Superintendent James Walsh.
“We have infrastructure problems right off the bat,” countered Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty.
The 16-acre site is four acres less than the design size of the jail within a 50-acre parcel already bought by the county in Monticello for that purpose.
And the minimim-security nature of the annex is unsuitable for the maximum-security requirements of a county jail, meaning not just renovations but brand new construction would be necessary.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t options for us to look at,” surmised Legislator Leni Binder.
And indeed, county officials were pondering those options as Walsh and his staff led them through the annex’s main buildings on Thursday.
The facility seemed in good shape, maintained by the state even though budget cuts led to its closure a year ago. Though it was once the Pine View Hotel of the Borscht Belt age – with inmates initially living in the old hotel when the state purchased it 30 years ago – the complex now features structures no more than 20 years old.
The tour started in the 9,148-square-foot administration building, a two-story structure with a library, classrooms and office space (the second story is unused). The group moved on to one of two 16,451-square-feet-apiece dormitories designed for 100 inmates each but actually holding 120 prior to closure.
A 4,427-square-foot medical/maintenance building and a dining hall of approximately 8,000 square feet rounded out the tour, which only skipped a 1,298-square-foot emergency generator facility.
County officials liked the Town of Fallsburg water and sewer service – which could shave $3 million off the design, said County Manager David Fanslau – but noted that it wouldn’t be a cheap renovation.
Fanslau added that even after construction, this site with its separate buildings (as opposed to the Monticello site, which would feature one facility) would likely require 30-35 guardposts, each of which would be manned by five deputies spread out over three shifts, costing about $550,000 apiece per year.
Plus travel times and costs would significantly increase, since most court and booking matters at the county level are handled in Monticello, about eight miles away.
Nevertheless, politicians like Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante said they’d do all they can to make it work.
In fact, Gunther is promoting pending state legislation that would make it far easier and cheaper to transfer unused state property to the county.
“I would hate to see it mothballed and that public investment lost,” agreed Legislator Alan Sorensen of the annex, envisioning its use as a homeless shelter if the jail idea comes to naught.
Even Fanslau and Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis saw some potential.
“I think it’s premature to dismiss it,” Fanslau acknowledged.
But they and Legislator Dave Sager said there’s more number-crunching to do first.
“We’re going to go through every avenue we have to go through,” affirmed Sager. “We need hard numbers. ... That’s what we owe the taxpayers.”
Mark Kukuvka of LaBella Associates, which is designing the jail, was present for the tour and is expected to be one of several tour members who will provide a report and recommendations to the Legislature during the Public Safety Committee meeting on March 4 at 1 p.m. (open to the public at the Government Center in Monticello).
Then again, as Jail Administrator Hal Smith of the Sheriff’s Office said, what’s workable and what’s not is mostly up to the NYS Commission of Correction.
“Our opinions really don’t matter,” he lamented.

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