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Home » » Engineer to Greene County Leg: Jail Damage Risks “Catastrophic Failure,” Committee Votes $51 Million New Jail Bond in 5-3 vote

Engineer to Greene County Leg: Jail Damage Risks “Catastrophic Failure,” Committee Votes $51 Million New Jail Bond in 5-3 vote

Written By Editor on 5/2/18 | 5/2/18

The Greene County Public Safety Committee met to a full crowd on Wednesday night. There was just a single item on the official posted agenda of a special meeting before the regular one: a report from Bill Scribner of Kaaterskill Associates Engineers on the structural integrity of the jail. The regular meeting at 6pm featured tense exchanges between legislators and the public.

A majority of the Legislature attended the meeting along with the members of the committee.

In a written report submitted to the Board the engineer stated that the building is under intense stress. It notes that the structural integrity of the structure is reliant on several building components and that “a deterioration of these elements and connections results in a building that will no longer resist the loads imposed by the environment and could lead to a catastrophic failure.”

Scribner said that upon review of some of the damage, “we could see that on the south wall of the building... there is an excessive amount of cracking” that “could be measured in inches.” In addition, the exterior wall connections and the floor diaphragms failed in part or in whole “in many areas.” On the South wall, there is a loss of integrity of the connections at 90% and 30% on the West wall, adding “most likely this wall would also partially collapse if the South wall failed.”

“The floor systems of the building have interior supports which might prevent the total collapse of the building in the event of the South wall failing,” the report continued.

Scribner reported to the board that environmental conditions could cause “catastrophic failure” under the correct conditions and recommend the closure of the original jail portion of the building until a “reinforcement structure is installed.”

Such surface mounted steel reinforcement “both on the interior and exterior of the South wall” would likely range between $300,000 and $400,000, according to the engineer. He concluded his written comments that “in addition to this there are many additional repair and maintenance items in this, and the connected buildings, that would need to be accomplished for continuing use.” Scribner said that the design work of such a project would take several weeks and construction several months.

Several of the legislators asked about the process in which the firm declared it unsafe. Legislator Lori Torgersen asked if any of the damage could have been prevented through maintenance.

“Anything would have helped,” Scribner said, citing potential change in layout, redirecting drainage, and other repairs. “The building reaches a certain age and it’s deteriorating, deteriorating, and deteriorating.”

At the end of the report and several questions about the integrity of the jail, the Public Safety Committee held its ordinary meeting with jail topics dominating the conversation.

In a contested vote, the Committee approved a resolution for the complete Legislature for the issuance of $51 million in serial bonds to potentially finance the project and for a USDA loan resolution for a similar purpose.

“The wheels have fallen off. Now we’ve blown the engine,” Greene County Undersheriff George Tortorelis said about the shape of the jail. He also stated that he does not believe that sharing the jail is a workable solution. He instead wanted to keep prisoners in the county.

Legislator Harry Lennon said that he believed there was “only one path”-- to build a new facility.

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Several members of the audience chimed in during the questions between the legislators and the Undersheriff. “Do I want to pay more taxes? No. Is it our responsibility? Yes,” he said.

Legislator Charles Martinez motioned and Legislator Linger seconded forwarding the bond. Legislator Kevin Lennon asked for a roll call vote. Furthermore, Legislator Torgersen asked about the previous vote rejecting a $30,000 study rather than the idea of a joint jail issue.

There were a number of comments from the audience. One comment asked why the County would consider a $50 million option to a “$15 million issue.” Another resident said “we’ve beat this thing to death umpteen times. We have a perfect opportunity to have this jail in Coxsackie.”

Legislator Aidan O’Connor asked if construction would start in late 2018 if the county moved forward in the near future. County Administrator Shaun Groden said that if not contracts were awarded by July, construction was unlikely this year.

O’Connor then apologized to a dozen corrections officers present, stating that he toured the facility in early 2016 and then found the facility “disgusting” then. O’Connor said that “we are rushing at the last moment” and that new construction will more than triple Greene County’s debt. “What happens to the mental health building? What happens to the medical records we have to digitize? We have to think differently.”

Legislator Lee Palmateer spoke next. “There has been no sense of urgency from you, Mr. O’Connor. You’ve been flipping and flopping.” He added, “There is a small minority, including you, that does not want to build a jail. This jail is falling down because of you and other members of this committee.”

“I take offense to that,” replied Legislator Michael Bulich. “I’m not afraid to build a jail. It’s not about making sure that people are employed publicly.” He added there is a nearby jail being constructed in Herkimer County with over 130 beds for $30 million. “Where is the other $20 million going? Who’s making the money?”

Legislator Kevin Lennon said that the County did not put money into the jail into recently and said he asked for the design plan and why the project is being downsized. Lennon said that when he asked for the plans last meeting, the meeting was closed.

Administrator Groden said that the Board of Elections did not allow a referendum on the subject after the idea surfaced from the audience. Legislator Torgersen said that she believed that it may be subject to a permissive referendum.

“Call the Board of Elections,” Groden said, “I’m tired of being the whipping boy.”

Windham’s Nick Bove called the situation “supercharged.” He said that this process is difficult on the legislature and the public “and I don’t see it going anywhere tonight but everyone yelling at everyone.” He called the idea of a referendum “brilliant.”

“There’s got to be a compromise,” Bove said. He added that he would rather pay existing employees more rather than spending more on a new jail.

Bulich continued, stating that if the original proposal for shared services was approved, it could be back now with a potential solution. He said that such a study would be reimbursed by the state except for $5,000.

Legislator and Committee Chair William Lawrence said that he believed that the option for a shared facility was “illegal” and “a lot more than $7.5 million. It’s going to be a lot more.” He also said that other estimates were not accurate.

Legislator Torgersen said that she attended a Columbia County meeting in which their legislature gave estimates on potential costs and said that the state declared that a joint facility is legal.

Chair Lawrence called a roll call vote of the committee: Legislators Martinez, Harry Lennon, Linger, Lewis, and Lawrence voted yes. Legislators O’Connor, Torgersen, and Kevin Lennon each voted no.

A vote to approve a USDA loan resolution passed 6-2 along the same lines as the previous vote, with the exception of Legislator O’Connor voting yes.

Legislator Harry Lennon said that he holds an obligation to the County’s corrections officers and that he is worried about their future.

At the end of the meeting, Legislator Matthew Luvera asked if the members of the Legislature could see the floor plans during a meeting. The plans may be discussed in executive session at a future meeting.

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