CORTLAND, N.Y. – A 20-page report released Wednesday by members of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and several high-level county officials makes a compelling case for a new public safety building.
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After years of delays and setbacks, county officials appear poised to move forward with an estimated $38 million project to construct a new public safety building and correctional facility.
And while the current facility is less than 30 years old, law enforcement officials say a newer facility would significantly reduce board-out costs associated with transporting inmates to other facilities when the county jail is filled to capacity.
The report also highlights several reasons why the current facility has outlived its purpose.
“Ineffective and inefficient”
When the county decided in the late 1980s to build a new jail, law enforcement officials did not get the building they wanted.
The current facility on Greenbush Street was completed in 1990. Law enforcement wanted a facility that could house 100 inmates, but county lawmakers chose to build a facility that could hold 50 inmates, according to the report.
“It should be noted that Cortland County’s jail is [the] only jail of remote podular design in the entire United States,” the report reads. “There has never been another jail built like this due to its ineffective and inefficient design.”
A September 2004 report from the state comptroller’s office concluded that “county officials need to formalize and institute a strategic plan to address the insufficiency of the Public Safety facility as soon as possible.”
Overcrowding at the jail has also become an expensive problem. In 2014, the county spent more than $456,000 related to board out costs.
In 2015, that number is likely to increase, as the county has already spent more than $350,000 in board out costs as of July 31.
Officials have attempted to alleviate this problem. In 2014, the county completed a $70,000 expansion project to convert the gymnasium at the facility into a dormitory to house an additional 30 inmates, though this was always intended as a temporary fix: the expansion was permitted by the state under the condition that the county would be pursuing a new facility.
Possible alternatives to building a new jail?
Officials have looked at the possibility of adding a second story to the jail, though this idea has largely been dismissed for several reasons that are highlighted in the report:
1) A second story does not address the already inefficient design of the current facility
2) While inmates are housed out, there will be an exorbitant overtime cost to transport inmates back and forth to scheduled court appearances, medical appointments, attorney consultations and persons arrested after construction starts.
3) If a second story were feasible, the county would only gain 30 beds at most. The original plan allowed for 60 beds, but the 30 beds in the gymnasium would be lost.
Officials have also discussed expanding the existing footprint of the site, though this would require purchasing 9 adjacent properties that would then have to be taken off the tax rolls.
First steps and delays
In July 2014, the county issued requests for proposals from developers for a new correctional and public safety complex.
Interested developers took a tour of the existing facility–along with the city police department, the sheriff’s office and the Cortland County 911 Center–and the project seemed to be gaining momentum.
But in September, the project came to a halt when the county administrator resigned without an immediate replacement.
After the county hired a director of budget and finance, an advisory committee tasked with studying the facility began to reopen negotiations with potential bidders.
The committee is currently recommending SMRT Architects and Engineers as the architectural firm for the project.
And while a site for the building hasn’t been identified, officials are looking at the possibility of a joint public safety complex with the City of Cortland Police Department.
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