$1 million in improvements takes pressure off building new jail

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 August 2013 at 12:00 am

Orleans has also reduced inmate population at site

Photos by Tom Rivers – New York State officials about five years ago were talking with the county about building a new jail. But the State Commission of Corrections shifted, supporting a series of improvements to the existing building.

Workers caulk around windows at the Orleans County Jail. The county has had new caulk put around all of the windows, about 100 in all, at the jail, as well as caulk around concrete panels and seams.

ALBION – Five years ago Orleans County officials worried the state was going to force construction of a new $30 million jail in Albion, a cost that would fall squarely on county taxpayers.

The jail on Platt Street, built in two stages around 1970, was crowded and falling into disrepair mainly due to water infiltration.

The county, hoping to stave off a costly new project, created a lengthy list of initiatives to keep the old jail open. The state Commission of Corrections gave the county the option of upgrading the Platt Street site.

About $1 million later county officials see a vastly improved jail that they expect will meet the county’s needs and state standards for at least two more decades.

Jail Superintendent Scott Wilson, left, and Orleans County Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt stand on a new roof on top of the county jail. The new tiled roof is on top of a rubber membrane with a drainage system.

The site has a new roof, boiler system, and a series of energy efficiency improvements, including new caulking around about 100 windows and also on the seams of the building. Crews sprayed insulation inside the concrete panels on the building.

Showers aren’t leaking anymore. Walls aren’t crumbling.

“It’s a great accomplishment, not having to deal with that,” Legislature Chairman David Callard said about the jail improvements that have stopped talk of a new jail. “In a systematic basis we took care of things that needed to be done.”

The county assigned one employee from Buildings and Grounds to be dedicated to the facility’s ongoing maintenance. Callard said that has ensured many problems are resolved quickly.

A crane has been next to the jail most of this summer, lifting heavy boxes of supplies and equipment. Most of those materials were used for a new roof on the jail, including a rubber membrane.

The roof now has tiles and a drainage system that keeps water from flowing into the building. When the jail was built more than four decades ago, it was done in two stages. A seal that connected the jail has been a long-term problem, until now.

Crews fixed that seal and put a rubber membrane over it. The previous seal never quite worked, allowing water to run into the building. That then caused chunks of the walls to break loose. Some of those pieces were used as weapons by inmates.

The deteriorating facility created a stressful environment for the 40 jail employees, said Jail Superintendent Scott Wilson.

But the jail is much improved these days, he said. There aren’t chunks of concrete to be grabbed. The walls and floors have all been painted, and new roof has blocked water from running down walls.

The project has upgraded showers and gate motors in the cell blocks. The showers now have water timers and a raised concrete pad on the floor, which will reduce water migration.

The biggest safety improvement may be a less crowded jail, Wilson said. The facility has an 82-bed capacity, but the county was granted a waiver to exceed that by 25 beds on weekends.

The jail population now tends to average in the 60s. The jail used to house many “state-ready” inmates who were to be transferred from the county jail to the state prison system.

It used to take the state months to move out those inmates. The process now takes about a week or two, Wilson said.

County officials were angry with the state five years ago when there was pressure to look at a new jail because the overcrowding on Platt Street was partly the state’s fault for not transferring out the state-ready inmates. The state used to pay counties $75 a day for housing state-ready inmates, but the state stopped paying counties, which further aggravated county officials.

But Wilson said there are now good relationships between Orleans and the state Commission of Corrections and the state Department of Corrections.

Nesbitt praised Wilson, the Sheriff’s Department, Buildings and Grounds and the County Legislature for allocating resources and expertise to improve the jail.

“It’s been a total team effort,” Nesbitt said. “By doing this project, the evidence will show we don’t need a new jail. Our intent was to extend the life of this building for at least another 15 to 20 years.”

The upgrades, which included a new boiler, will reduce some of the utility expenses for the jail. The county is also seeking rebates from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which should help pay towards some of the project.

The project added screens to the fence on the roof. The screens provide a visual and voice barrier from inmates and the public outside the facility. The jail is next to the County Courthouse.