The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 13, 2013

Cresson prison on the block

John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — This is a listing that a Realtor would relish: Talk about a motivated “cell-er”!

Two state prisons that will close next month are among 13 surplus properties that the state hopes to sell to shed $5 million in annual maintenance costs.

Also on the block will be the former New Castle Youth Development Center Lawrence County and buildings on the grounds of the Danville State Hospital, including one most recently used as a juvenile detention facility.

The Department of General Services estimates that the properties could command more than $6 million, but a formal appraisal of their worth cannot take place until the Legislature approves their sale.

“The 13 properties in this year’s plan make up the largest (surplus property) list since 1993,” Department of General Services Secretary Sheri Phillips said.

Since Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2011, 36 surplus properties have been sold, bringing in nearly $29 million in nontax revenue, Phillips said. Two more conveyances will occur between now and June 30, representing an additional $2.2 million. Equally important, the past sales represent more than

$5 million in avoided expenses to maintain empty, unnecessary facilities and surrounding land.

The state prison at Cresson is projected to bring in $500,000 for the 40-building complex spread across 450 acres in Cambria County. The state prison in Greensburg – 32 buildings spread across 120 acres in Westmoreland County – is expected to bring closer to $1.5 million, state documents show. Both prisons will close at the end of June as the state merges their operations into the new SCI Benner in Centre County, which opened earlier this year.

The New Castle Youth Detention Center, which closed in January, is expected to sell for about $1.5 million, too, state records show. The detention center includes 16 buildings on 200 acres.

The last time the state sold a state prison was in 2005, when the state sold the former Waynesburg state prison for $990,000, said Troy Thompson, a spokesman in the state Department of General Services. The Waynesburg prison was purchased by a boarding school for youth with drug and behavioral problems, but the facility closed after operating for only four years.

The prisons and detention facilities would likewise most easily be transferred to a law enforcement or corrections type use, Thompson said.

There are 18 privately run secure detention facilities in Pennsylvania already, said Anne Bale, a spokeswoman in the Department of Public Welfare.

Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, said that even though SCI Cresson is in his legislative district, no one in the Corbett administration has provided him with any information about how the prison might be reused.

When the Department of Corrections was asked about future uses of the site, they said it would be up to the Department of General Services. And the Department of General Services told him they couldn’t talk about what they would do with the site until it was declared “surplus,” Haluska said.

“That’s one of the problems I had with this, was the lack of planning,” Haluska said.

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