The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 27, 2014

Jail birds becoming a nuisance, commissioners say

Kathy Mellott

JOHNSTOWN — Portions of the old Cambria County jail in Ebensburg are knee-deep in pigeon droppings, making it tough to interest entrepreneurs in potential reuse of the long-vacant structure.

With that in mind, the Cambria County commissioners Thursday night awarded a bid to a Johnstown area company to remove the waste, secure the area of the old prison where pigeons are gaining access and take steps to discourage their return.

“We’ve known they were there for years and Ebensburg really is pushing to find another use for the building,” county Solicitor Thomas Leiden said prior to the meeting. “It’s a building with charm, and with this it doesn’t make it easy to develop.”

Crespo’s Wildlife Solutions of the 500 block of Hershberger Road was awarded the contract for $9,989. Work is to begin as soon as weather allows.

“That sounds like a lot of money to clean the pigeons out of the old prison, but another bid we had was $35,000,” Commissioner Mark Wissinger said.

Leiden stressed that the pigeon droppings are not in the newer portion of the facility used for storage of Cambria County records, but are limited to the oldest section including the tower.

The prison building on North Center Street is owned by Cambria County and was closed in the mid-1990s when the new facility in Cambria Township was completed.

President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said little money has been spent on maintenance of the vacant structure, but addressing the pigeon problem is sorely needed.

“The county has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the buildings we own,” he said. “We’re going in. We’re cleaning it up and hopefully we’ll be able to put it to use.”

The county has given Ebensburg permission to use the building during special events and is encouraging local leaders to find potential reuses.

The original jail was built in 1872 of wood and cut stone for $73,000, borough manager Daniel Penatzer said. It is the oldest section where the pigeons have gained access.

“A lot of pigeons have gotten into the front tower and from the basement to the third floor,” Penatzer said. “There’s feathers and there are droppings.”

The tower is especially dirty from the pigeons, he said.

“We have two people interested in developing that portion of the jail,” he said. “It’s difficult. You don’t want to even show it to anybody.”

County personnel have identified the areas where the pigeons are getting in, and the contract calls for those areas to be secured to prevent the pigeons’ return.

Steps to harass the pigeons also have to be taken. The tactics may include loud noises or throwing material on the roof so they don’t land, Penatzer said.

The commissioners held their bi-weekly public meeting at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at