Raising funds for the study of prisons | News, Sports, Jobs

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County is seeking a grant of $185,400 to cover the cost of a feasibility study on the jail.

Commissioners on Thursday cleared the submission of an application for a statewide Local Sharing Account grant to the Commonwealth Funding Agency, which reviews applications that can be funded with the proceeds of gaming revenue.

Starting this year, the Local Share Account grant program was opened to all qualified applicants in the state rather than eligible applicants in specific locations.

Qualified applicants include county governments and projects that include planning, consulting and design costs for projects of public interest.

“This is the only grant I have found so far that would help us with any type of prison-related expenses,” Chief Clerk and County Administrator Nicole Hemminger told commissioners on Tuesday.

The proposed feasibility study and its cost will be described in a document in support of the grant application, Hemminger said.

Hemminger said TransSystems Corp., the company that last year acquired LR Kimball Architects of Ebensburg, prepared the document and offered the price to explore options.

“We ask them to do a lot of research,” said Hemminger.

Last year, Kimball staff completed a free study of the county jail, built in 1868 and 1869 with its largest expansion in 1983. They submitted a report proposing two ideas for consideration: building a new multi-unit facility million dollars or tackle major renovations to the current site.

“Neither of them are appetizing”, said county jail board chairman AC Stickel after his submission.

Commissioner Bruce Erb, who also sits on the prison board, spoke out on Tuesday in favor of the grant application to pay for the feasibility study giving the county more information.

“We know enough to know that we need to do something, but not what we need to do specifically,” said Erbe.

Stickel, after becoming chairman of the prison board in January 2020, appointed a committee to focus on the future of the prison.

That committee, however, made little headway during the COVID-19 pandemic when prisons, including Blair’s, restricted access to their facilities and focused on measures to combat the deadly virus.

In August, Stickel reported to the prison board that he, Warden Abbie Tate, Deputy Warden James Eckard, and Hemminger had traveled to Franklin County for a tour of its 15-year prison.

Meanwhile, at least two other counties in Pennsylvania are working on new prisons.

Fayette County is building a 114,500 square foot facility that will replace its existing jail built in 1892. Key features include 170 precast concrete cells with 330 beds, four floors including two floors and two mezzanines, flexible housing options and a space for inmate programs and treatment efforts. The facility was also designed for potential expansion which would add 68 cells for 132 beds.

Fayette County is building its jail on the site of a former Army Reserve Center that was vacant and had to be demolished. The county acquired the site at no cost and depended on LR Kimball to design the facility which is expected to be complete in January and ready to move in by March 2023.

Lancaster County is also preparing to build a new jail to replace its current old facility which includes parts dating back to the 19th century. Commissioners have identified a 75-acre site, south of Lancaster, on what is currently a working farm. An engineering firm, Rettew, found minimal impediments to construction based on a report it provided to the county. Design of the jail is expected to begin after the county takes possession of the site.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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Abdul J. Gaspar